The theory of reinforcement learning provides a normative account1, deeply rooted in psychological2 and neuroscientific3 perspectives on animal behaviour, of how agents may optimize their control of an environment. To use reinforcement learning successfully in situations approaching real-world complexity, however, agents are confronted with a difficult task: they must derive efficient representations of the environment from high-dimensional sensory inputs, and use these to generalize past experience to new situations. Remarkably, humans and other animals seem to solve this problem through a harmonious combination of reinforcement learning and hierarchical sensory processing systems4,5, the former evidenced by a wealth of neural data revealing notable parallels between the phasic signals emitted by dopaminergic neurons and temporal difference reinforcement learning algorithms3. While reinforcement learning agents have achieved some successes in a variety of domains6,7,8, their applicability has previously been limited to domains in which useful features can be handcrafted, or to domains with fully observed, low-dimensional state spaces. Here we use recent advances in training deep neural networks9,10,11 to develop a novel artificial agent, termed a deep Q-network, that can learn successful policies directly from high-dimensional sensory inputs using end-to-end reinforcement learning. We tested this agent on the challenging domain of classic Atari 2600 games12. We demonstrate that the deep Q-network agent, receiving only the pixels and the game score as inputs, was able to surpass the performance of all previous algorithms and achieve a level comparable to that of a professional human games tester across a set of 49 games, using the same algorithm, network architecture and hyperparameters. This work bridges the divide between high-dimensional sensory inputs and actions, resulting in the first artificial agent that is capable of learning to excel at a diverse array of challenging tasks.
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We thank G. Hinton, P. Dayan and M. Bowling for discussions, A. Cain and J. Keene for work on the visuals, K. Keller and P. Rogers for help with the visuals, G. Wayne for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, and the rest of the DeepMind team for their support, ideas and encouragement.
Extended data figures
Extended data tables
This video shows the performance of the DQN agent while playing the game of Space Invaders. The DQN agent successfully clears the enemy ships on the screen while the enemy ships move down and sideways with gradually increasing speed.
This video shows the improvement in the performance of DQN over training (i.e. after 100, 200, 400 and 600 episodes). After 600 episodes DQN finds and exploits the optimal strategy in this game, which is to make a tunnel around the side, and then allow the ball to hit blocks by bouncing behind the wall. Note: the score is displayed at the top left of the screen (maximum for clearing one screen is 448 points), number of lives remaining is shown in the middle (starting with 5 lives), and the “1” on the top right indicates this is a 1-player game.
About this article
The Journal of Supercomputing (2019)