This AI Paper Introduces a General-Purpose Planning Algorithm called PALMER that Combines Classical Sampling-based Planning Algorithms with Learning-based Perceptual Representations

Both animals and people use high-dimensional inputs (like eyesight) to accomplish various shifting survival-related objectives. A crucial aspect of this is learning via mistakes. A brute-force approach to trial and error by performing every action for every potential goal is intractable even in the smallest contexts. Memory-based methods for compositional thinking are motivated by the difficulty of this search. These processes include, for instance, the ability to: recall pertinent portions of prior experience; (ii) reassemble them into new counterfactual plans, and (iii) carry out such plans as part of a focused search strategy. Compared to equally sampling every action, such techniques for recycling prior successful behavior can considerably speed up trial-and-error. This is because the intrinsic compositional structure of real-world objectives and the similarity of the physical laws that control real-world settings allow the same behavior (i.e., sequence of actions) to remain valid for many purposes and situations. What guiding principles enable memory processes to retain and reassemble experience fragments? This debate is strongly connected to the idea of dynamic programming (DP), which using the principle of optimality significantly lowers the computing cost of trial-and-error. This idea may be expressed informally as considering new, complicated issues as a recomposition of previously solved, smaller subproblems.

This viewpoint has recently been used to create hierarchical reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms for goal-achieving tasks. These techniques develop edges between states in a planning graph using a distance regression model, compute the shortest pathways across it using DP-based graph search, and then use a learning-based local policy to follow the shortest paths. Their essay advances this field of study. The following is a summary of their contributions: They provide a strategy for long-term planning that acts directly on high-dimensional sensory data that an agent may see on its own (e.g., images from an onboard camera). Their solution blends traditional sampling-based planning algorithms with learning-based perceptual representations to recover and reassemble previously recorded state transitions in a replay buffer.

The two-step method makes this possible. To determine how many timesteps it takes for an optimum policy to move from one state to the next, they first learn a latent space where the distance between two states is the measure. They know contrastive representations using goal-conditioned Q-values acquired through offline hindsight relabeling. To establish neighborhood criteria across states, the second threshold this developed latent distance metric. They go on to design sampling-based planning algorithms that scan the replay buffer for trajectory segments—previously recorded successions of transitions—whose ends are adjacent states.

Top: PALMER plots a route between two start-goal image pairs by joining the endpoints of previous trajectory segments received from a supplied replay buffer. A state embedding function f that can locate nearby states makes this possible and produces reliable long-horizon planning. 

Bottom: To do this, it first uses offline Q-learning to estimate local reachability between states, then uses these Q-values to train f using representation learning, then uses f to plan over the replay buffer, then executes these plans, then evaluates the resulting trajectories to improve the replay buffer’s contents.

This trajectory stitching method enables the creation of planning graphs that link any previously observed pair of start and objective states (as depicted in the figure above). Their solution uses unlabeled offline data, making it compatible with any exploration technique to fill the replay buffer. Their tests use an offline replay buffer filled with homogeneous random-walk exploration data to simulate an image-based navigation policy. The code is open source on GitHub.


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Aneesh Tickoo is a consulting intern at MarktechPost. He is currently pursuing his undergraduate degree in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence from the Indian Institute of Technology(IIT), Bhilai. He spends most of his time working on projects aimed at harnessing the power of machine learning. His research interest is image processing and is passionate about building solutions around it. He loves to connect with people and collaborate on interesting projects.

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