Rewiring Neurons in Non-Stationary Environments

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

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Zhicheng Sun, Yadong Mu


The human brain rewires itself for neuroplasticity in the presence of new tasks. We are inspired to harness this key process in continual reinforcement learning, prioritizing adaptation to non-stationary environments. In distinction to existing rewiring approaches that rely on pruning or dynamic routing, which may limit network capacity and plasticity, this work presents a novel rewiring scheme by permuting hidden neurons. Specifically, the neuron permutation is parameterized to be end-to-end learnable and can rearrange all available synapses to explore a large span of weight space, thereby promoting adaptivity. In addition, we introduce two main designs to steer the rewiring process in continual reinforcement learning: first, a multi-mode rewiring strategy is proposed which diversifies the policy and encourages exploration when encountering new environments. Secondly, to ensure stability on history tasks, the network is devised to cache each learned wiring while subtly updating its weights, allowing for retrospective recovery of any previous state appropriate for the task. Meanwhile, an alignment mechanism is curated to achieve better plasticity-stability tradeoff by jointly optimizing cached wirings and weights. Our proposed method is comprehensively evaluated on 18 continual reinforcement learning scenarios ranging from locomotion to manipulation, demonstrating its advantages over state-of-the-art competitors in performance-efficiency tradeoffs. Code is available at