Large Language Models can Implement Policy Iteration

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper


Ethan Brooks, Logan Walls, Richard L Lewis, Satinder Singh


In this work, we demonstrate a method for implementing policy iteration using a large language model. While the application of foundation models to RL has received considerable attention, most approaches rely on either (1) the curation of expert demonstrations (either through manual design or task-specific pretraining) or (2) adaptation to the task of interest using gradient methods (either fine-tuning or training of adapter layers). Both of these techniques have drawbacks. Collecting demonstrations is labor-intensive, and algorithms that rely on them do not outperform the experts from which the demonstrations were derived. All gradient techniques are inherently slow, sacrificing the “few-shot” quality that makes in-context learning attractive to begin with. Our method demonstrates that a large language model can be used to implement policy iteration using the machinery of in-context learning, enabling it to learn to perform RL tasks without expert demonstrations or gradients. Our approach iteratively updates the contents of the prompt from which it derives its policy through trial-and-error interaction with an RL environment. In order to eliminate the role of in-weights learning (on which approaches like Decision Transformer rely heavily), we demonstrate our method using Codex (M. Chen et al. 2021b), a language model with no prior knowledge of the domains on which we evaluate it.