reinforcement learning neural turing machines

Wojciech Zaremba, Ilya Sutskever

The expressive power of a machine learning model is closely related to the number of sequential computational steps it can learn. For example, Deep Neural Networks have been more successful than shallow networks because they can perform a greater number of sequential computational steps (each highly parallel). The Neural Turing Machine (NTM) is a model that can compactly express an even greater number of sequential computational steps, so it is even more powerful than a DNN. Its memory addressing operations are designed to be differentiable; thus the NTM can be trained with backpropagation. While differentiable memory is relatively easy to implement and train, it necessitates accessing the entire memory content at each computational step. This makes it difficult to implement a fast NTM. In this work, we use the Reinforce algorithm to learn where to access the memory, while using backpropagation to learn what to write to the memory. We call this model the RL-NTM. Reinforce allows our model to access a constant number of memory cells at each computational step, so its implementation can be faster. The RL-NTM is the first model that can, in principle, learn programs of unbounded running time. We successfully trained the RL-NTM to solve a number of algorithmic tasks that are simpler than the ones solvable by the fully differentiable NTM. As the RL-NTM is a fairly intricate model, we needed a method for verifying the correctness of our implementation. To do so, we developed a simple technique for numerically checking arbitrary implementations of models that use Reinforce, which may be of independent interest.

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