Variational Automatic Curriculum Learning for Sparse-Reward Cooperative Multi-Agent Problems

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Jiayu Chen, Yuanxin Zhang, Yuanfan Xu, Huimin Ma, Huazhong Yang, Jiaming Song, Yu Wang, Yi Wu


We introduce an automatic curriculum algorithm, Variational Automatic Curriculum Learning (VACL), for solving challenging goal-conditioned cooperative multi-agent reinforcement learning problems. We motivate our curriculum learning paradigm through a variational perspective, where the learning objective can be decomposed into two terms: task learning on the current curriculum, and curriculum update to a new task distribution. Local optimization over the second term suggests that the curriculum should gradually expand the training tasks from easy to hard. Our VACL algorithm implements this variational paradigm with two practical components, task expansion and entity curriculum, which produces a series of training tasks over both the task configurations as well as the number of entities in the task. Experiment results show that VACL solves a collection of sparse-reward problems with a large number of agents. Particularly, using a single desktop machine, VACL achieves 98% coverage rate with 100 agents in the simple-spread benchmark and reproduces the ramp-use behavior originally shown in OpenAI’s hide-and-seek project.