SE PhD Dissertation Defense: James Queeney

TITLE:   Reliable Deep Reinforcement Learning: Stable Training and Robust Deployment

ADVISORS: Ioannis Paschalidis, ECE, BME, SE, CDS and Christos Cassandras, ECE, SE

COMMITTEE: Ashok Cutkosky, ECE, CS, SE; Eshed Ohn-Bar, ECE, CS; Mouhacine Benosman, MERL

CHAIR: Alex Olshevsky, ECE, SE

ABSTRACT: Deep reinforcement learning (RL) represents a data-driven framework for sequential decision making that has demonstrated the ability to solve challenging control tasks. This data-driven, learning-based approach offers the potential to improve operations in complex systems, but only if it can be trusted to produce reliable performance both during training and upon deployment. These requirements have hindered the adoption of deep RL in many real-world applications. In order to overcome the limitations of existing methods, this dissertation introduces reliable deep RL algorithms that deliver (i) stable training from limited data and (ii) robust, safe deployment in the presence of uncertainty.The first part of the dissertation addresses the interactive nature of deep RL, where learning requires data collection from the environment. This interactive process can be expensive, time-consuming, and dangerous in many real-world settings, which motivates the need for reliable and efficient learning. We develop deep RL algorithms that guarantee stable performance throughout training, while also directly considering data efficiency in their design. These algorithms are supported by novel policy improvement lower bounds that account for finite-sample estimation error and sample reuse.The second part of the dissertation focuses on the uncertainty present in real-world applications, which can impact the performance and safety of learned control policies. In order to reliably deploy deep RL in the presence of uncertainty, we introduce frameworks that incorporate safety constraints and provide robustness to general disturbances in the environment. Importantly, these frameworks make limited assumptions on the training process, and can be implemented in settings that require real-world interaction for training. This motivates deep RL algorithms that deliver robust, safe performance at deployment time, while only using standard data collection from a single training environment.Overall, this dissertation contributes new techniques to overcome key limitations of deep RL for real-world decision making and control. Experiments across a variety of continuous control tasks demonstrate the effectiveness of our algorithms.

When 1:00 pm on Wednesday, July 5, 2023
Location CDS, 665 Commonwealth Ave (1101)