Reinforcement learning is the training of machine learning models to make a sequence of decisions. The agent learns to achieve a goal in an uncertain, potentially complex environment. In reinforcement learning, an artificial intelligence faces a game-like situation. The computer employs trial and error to come up with a solution to the problem. To get the machine to do what the programmer wants, the artificial intelligence gets either rewards or penalties for the actions it performs. Its goal is to maximize the total reward.
Although the designer sets the reward policy–that is, the rules of the game–he gives the model no hints or suggestions for how to solve the game. It’s up to the model to figure out how to perform the task to maximize the reward, starting from totally random trials and finishing with sophisticated tactics and superhuman skills. By leveraging the power of search and many trials, reinforcement learning is currently the most effective way to hint machine’s creativity. In contrast to human beings, artificial intelligence can gather experience from thousands of parallel gameplays if a reinforcement learning algorithm is run on a sufficiently powerful computer infrastructure.
Examples of reinforcement learning
Applications of reinforcement learning were in the past limited by weak computer infrastructure. However, as Gerard Tesauro’s backgamon AI superplayer developed in 1990’s shows, progress did happen. That early progress is now rapidly changing with powerful new computational technologies opening the way to completely new inspiring applications.
Training the models that control autonomous cars is an excellent example of a potential application of reinforcement learning. In an ideal situation, the computer should get no instructions on driving the car. The programmer would avoid hard-wiring anything connected with the task and allow the machine to learn from its own errors. In a perfect situation, the only hard-wired element would be the reward function.