In 2020, we celebrated the
30-year anniversary of our papers on
planning & reinforcement learning with artificial neural networks (NNs) [AC90] [PLAN2].
The technical report
FKI-126-90 introduced several concepts that are now widely used:
(1) planning with recurrent NNs (RNNs) as world models,
(2) high-dimensional reward signals (also as inputs for a neural controller),
(3) deterministic policy gradients for RNNs,
(4) artificial curiosity [AC90b] and intrinsic motivation through
NNs that are both generative and adversarial
(GANs are a special case
In the 2010s, these concepts
became popular as
compute became cheaper. Our more recent extensions since 2015 [PLAN4-6] [OBJ2-4] address
planning in abstract concept spaces and learning to think.
Agents with adaptive recurrent
world models even suggest a simple explanation of consciousness and self-awareness (dating back three decades [CON16]).
I drew the illustrations of [AC90] by hand—some of them are shown here.
In February 1990, I published the Technical Report FKI-126-90 [AC90] (revised in November)
which introduced several concepts that have become popular in the field of Machine Learning.
The report described a system for reinforcement learning (RL) and planning based on a combination of two
recurrent neural networks (RNNs) called the controller and the world model [AC90]. The controller tries to maximize cumulative expected reward in an initially unknown environment. The world model learns to predict the consequences of the controller's actions. The controller can use the world model to plan ahead for several time steps through what's now called a rollout, selecting action sequences that maximise predicted cumulative reward [AC90] [PLAN2].
This integrated architecture for learning, planning, and reacting was apparently published
before Rich Sutton's DYNA [DYNA90] [DYNA91].
([AC90] also cites work on
system identification with feedforward
NNs [WER87-89] [MUN87] [NGU89] [JOR90] [DL1].)
The approach led to lots of follow-up publications, not only
in 1990-91 [PLAN2-3] [PHD],
but also in recent years, e.g., [PLAN4-6].
See also Sec. 11 of [MIR]
and our 1990 application of world models to the
learning of sequential attention
Another novelty of 1990 was the concept of
high-dimensional reward signals.
Traditional RL has focused on one-dimensional reward signals.
Humans, however, have millions of informative sensors for different types of pain and pleasure etc.
To my knowledge, reference [AC90] was the first paper on RL with
multi-dimensional, vector-valued pain and reward signals coming in through
many different sensors,
where cumulative values are predicted for all those sensors,
not just for a single scalar overall reward.
Compare what was later called a general value function
Unlike previous adaptive critics, the one of 1990 [AC90]
was multi-dimensional and recurrent.
Unlike in traditional RL,
those reward signals were also used as informative inputs to the controller NN
learning to execute actions that maximise cumulative reward.
This is also relevant for metalearning.
Compare Sec. 13 of [MIR]
and Sec. 5 of [DEC] and
Sec. 3 & Sec. 6
Are such techniques applicable in the real world? For example,
can NNs successfully plan to steer real robots? Yes, they can.
For example, my former postdoc Alexander Gloye-Förster
led FU Berlin's FU-Fighters team that became robocup world champion 2004 in the fastest league (robot speed up to 5m/s) [RES5].
Their robocup robots planned ahead with neural nets, in line with the ideas
outlined in [AC90].
In 2005, Alexander and his team
also showed how such concepts can be used to build so-called
self-healing robots [RES5] [RES7].
They constructed the first resilient machines using continuous self-modeling. Their robots could autonomously recover from certain types of unexpected damage, through adaptive self-models derived from actuation-sensation relationships, used to generate forward locomotion.
The 1990 FKI tech report [AC90] also described basics of
deterministic policy gradients for RNNs.
Its section "Augmenting the Algorithm by Temporal Difference Methods"
combined the Dynamic Programming-based
Temporal Difference method [TD] for predicting cumulative (possibly multi-dimensional) rewards
with a gradient-based predictive
model of the world,
to compute weight changes for the separate control network.
See also Sec. 2.4 of the 1991 follow-up paper [PLAN3]
(and compare [NAN1-5]).
Variants of this were used a
quarter century later by DeepMind
See also Sec. 14 of [MIR]
and and Sec. 5 of [DEC].
Finally, the 1990 paper also introduced
Artificial Curiosity through Adversarial Generative NNs.
As humans interact with the world, they learn to predict the consequences of their actions. They are also curious, designing experiments that lead to novel data from which they can learn more.
To build curious artificial agents, the papers [AC90, AC90b] introduced
a new type of active unsupervised or self-supervised learning with intrinsic motivation.
It is based on a
minimax game where one neural net (NN) minimizes the objective function maximized
by another NN [R2].
Today, I refer to
this duel between two unsupervised adversarial NNs as Adversarial Artificial Curiosity [AC20],
to distinguish it from our later types of Artificial Curiosity and intrinsic motivation since 1991
How does Adversarial Artificial Curiosity work?
The controller NN (probabilistically) generates outputs that may influence an environment. The world model NN predicts the environmental reactions to the controller's outputs.
Using gradient descent, the world model minimizes its error, thus becoming a better predictor. But in a zero sum game, the controller tries to find outputs that maximize the error of the world model, whose loss is the gain of the controller.
Hence the controller is motivated to invent novel outputs or experiments that yield data that the world model still finds surprising, until the data becomes familiar and eventually boring. Compare more recent summaries and extensions of this
now popular principle, e.g., [AC09].
That is, in 1990, we already had
self-supervised neural nets that were both
generative and adversarial
(using much later terminology from 2014 [GAN1] [R2]),
generating experimental outputs yielding novel data,
not only for stationary
patterns but also for pattern sequences, and even for the general case of
In fact, the popular
Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs)
are an application of Adversarial Curiosity [AC90] where the
environment simply returns 1 or 0 depending on whether the controller's current output is in a
given set [AC20] [R2].
See also Sec. 5 of [MIR] and
Sec. 4 of [DEC] and
Sec. XVII of [T20].
BTW, note that Adversarial Curiosity [AC90, AC90b] & GANs [GAN0, GAN1]
& our Adversarial Predictability
Minimization (1991) [PM1-2] are
very different from other
early adversarial machine learning settings [S59] [H90]
neither involved unsupervised NNs nor were about modeling data nor used gradient descent [AC20].
As I have frequently pointed out since 1990 [AC90],
the weights of an NN should be viewed as its program.
Some argue that the goal of a deep NN is to learn useful internal representations of
observed data—there is even an International Conference on Learning Representations called ICLR.
the NN is learning a program (the weights or parameters of a mapping)
that computes such representations in response to the input data.
The outputs of typical NNs are differentiable with respect to their programs.
That is, a simple program generator
can compute a direction in program space where one may find a better program [AC90].
Much of my work since 1989 has exploited this fact.
See also Sec. 18 of [MIR].
The original controller/model (C/M) planner of 1990 [AC90] focused on naive "millisecond by millisecond planning," trying to predict and plan every little detail of its possible futures. Even today, this is
still a standard approach in many RL applications, e.g., RL for board games such as Chess and Go.
My more recent work of 2015, however, has
focused on abstract (e.g., hierarchical) planning and reasoning [PLAN4-5].
algorithmic information theory, I described RNN-based AIs (RNNAIs) that can be trained on never-ending sequences of tasks, some of them provided by the user, others invented by the RNNAI itself in a curious, playful fashion, to improve its RNN-based world model. Unlike the system of 1990 [AC90], the RNNAI [PLAN4] learns to actively query its model for abstract reasoning and planning and decision making, essentially learning to think [PLAN4].
Compare also our recent related work on learning (hierarchically) structured
concept spaces based on abstract objects [OBJ2-5].
The ideas of [PLAN4-5] can be applied to many other cases where one RNN-like system exploits the algorithmic information content of another. They also explain concepts such as mirror neurons [PLAN4].
recent work with David Ha
of Google (2018) [PLAN6],
a world model extracts compressed spatio-temporal representations which are fed into compact and simple policies trained by evolution, achieving state of the art results in various environments.
Finally, what does all of this have to do with the seemingly elusive
concepts of consciousness and self-awareness? My
first deep learning machine
[UN0-UN3] emulates aspects of consciousness as follows.
It uses unsupervised learning and predictive coding [UN0-UN3] [SNT] to compress observation sequences.
A so-called "conscious chunker RNN" attends to unexpected events that surprise
a lower-level so-called "subconscious automatiser RNN."
The chunker RNN learns to "understand" the surprising events by predicting them.
The automatiser RNN uses a neural
knowledge distillation procedure
(see Sec. 2 of [MIR])
to compress and absorb the formerly "conscious" insights and
behaviours of the chunker RNN, thus making them "subconscious."
Let us now look at the predictive world model of a controller interacting with an environment as discussed above.
It also learns to efficiently encode the growing history of actions and observations
through predictive coding [UN0-UN3] [SNT].
It automatically creates feature hierarchies, lower level neurons corresponding to simple feature detectors (perhaps similar to those found in mammalian brains), higher layer neurons typically corresponding to more abstract features, but fine-grained where necessary. Like any good compressor, the world model will learn to identify regularities shared by existing internal data structures, and generate prototype encodings (across neuron populations) or
compact representations or "symbols" (not necessarily discrete)
for frequently occurring observation sub-sequences, to shrink the storage space needed for the whole. In particular, compact self-representations or
are natural by-products of the data compression process, since there is one thing that is involved in all actions and sensory inputs of the agent, namely, the agent itself. To efficiently encode the entire data history through predictive coding, it will profit from creating some sort of internal sub-network of connected neurons computing neural activation patterns representing itself
Whenever this representation becomes activated
through the controller's planning mechanism of 1990 [AC90] [PLAN2],
or through more flexible controller
queries of 2015 [PLAN4],
the agent is thinking about itself, being aware of itself and its alternative possible futures, trying to create a future of minimal pain and maximal pleasure through interaction with its environment.
That's why I keep claiming that we have had simple, conscious, self-aware, emotional, artificial agents for 3 decades [CON16].
Thanks to several expert reviewers for useful comments. Since science is about self-correction, let me know under firstname.lastname@example.org if you can spot any remaining error. The contents of this article may be used for educational and non-commercial purposes, including articles for Wikipedia and similar sites. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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