Dissertation Defense

Learning to Use Memory

Nicholas Gorski

This thesis is a comprehensive empirical exploration of using
reinforcement learning to learn to use simple forms of working memory.
Learning to use memory involves learning how to behave in the
environment while simultaneously learning when to select internal
actions that control how knowledge persists in memory and learning how
to use that information stored in memory to make decisions. We focus
on two different models of memory: bit memory and gated memory. Bit
memory originated in reinforcement learning literature and stores
abstract values, which an agent can learn to associate with task
history. Gated memory is inspired by human working memory and stores
perceptually grounded symbols. Our goal is to determine computational
bounds on the tractability of learning to use these memories. We
conduct a comprehensive empirical exploration of the dynamics of
learning to use memory models by modifying a simple partially
observable task, TMaze, along specific dimensions: length of temporal
delay, number of dependent decisions, number of distinct symbols,
quantity of concurrent knowledge, and availability of second order
knowledge. We find that learning to use gated memory is significantly
more tractable than learning to use bit memory because it stores
perceptually grounded symbols in memory. We further find that learning
performance scales more favorably along temporal delay, distinct
symbols, and concurrent knowledge when learning to use gated memory
than along other dimensions. We also identify situations in which
agents fail to learn to use gated memory optimally which involve
repeated identical observations which result in no unambiguous
trajectories through the underlying task and memory state space.

Sponsored by

John E. Laird