Optimization on a Budget: A Reinforcement Learning Approach

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 21 (NIPS 2008)

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Paul Ruvolo, Ian Fasel, Javier Movellan


Many popular optimization algorithms, like the Levenberg-Marquardt algorithm (LMA), use heuristic-based controllers'' that modulate the behavior of the optimizer during the optimization process. For example, in the LMA a damping parameter is dynamically modified based on a set rules that were developed using various heuristic arguments. Reinforcement learning (RL) is a machine learning approach to learn optimal controllers by examples and thus is an obvious candidate to improve the heuristic-based controllers implicit in the most popular and heavily used optimization algorithms. Improving the performance of off-the-shelf optimizers is particularly important for time-constrained optimization problems. For example the LMA algorithm has become popular for many real-time computer vision problems, including object tracking from video, where only a small amount of time can be allocated to the optimizer on each incoming video frame. Here we show that a popular modern reinforcement learning technique using a very simply state space can dramatically improve the performance of general purpose optimizers, like the LMA. Most surprisingly the controllers learned for a particular domain appear to work very well also on very different optimization domains. For example we used RL methods to train a new controller for the damping parameter of the LMA. This controller was trained on a collection of classic, relatively small, non-linear regression problems. The modified LMA performed better than the standard LMA on these problems. Most surprisingly, it also dramatically outperformed the standard LMA on a difficult large scale computer vision problem for which it had not been trained before. Thus the controller appeared to have extracted control rules that were not just domain specific but generalized across a wide range of optimization domains."