EPSRC logo

Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/X015823/1
Title: An Abstraction-based Technique for Safe Reinforcement Learning
Principal Investigator: Belardinelli, Dr F
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Computing
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 01 October 2023 Ends: 30 September 2025 Value (£): 302,082
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Artificial Intelligence Fundamentals of Computing
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
24 Jan 2023 EPSRC ICT Prioritisation Panel January 2023 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Autonomous agents learning to act in unknown environments have been attracting research interest due to their wider implications for AI, as well as for their applications in complex domains, including robotics, network optimisation, and resource allocation.

Currently, one of the most successful approaches is reinforcement learning (RL). However, to learn how to act, agents are required to explore the environment, which in safety-critical scenarios means that they might take dangerous actions, possibly harming themselves or even putting human lives at risk. Consequently, reinforcement learning is still rarely used in real-world applications, where multiple safety-critical constraints need to be satisfied simultaneously.

To alleviate this problem, RL algorithms are being combined with formal verification techniques to ensure safety in learning. Indeed, formal methods are nowadays routinely applied to the specification, design, and verification of complex systems, as they allow to obtain proof-like certification of their correct and safe behaviour, which is meant to be intelligible to system engineers and human users alike. These desirable features have motivated the adoption of formal methods for the verification of general AI systems, which has variously been called safe, verifiable, trustworthy AI 1. Still, the application of formal methods to AI systems raises significant new challenges, including the "black-box" nature of most machine learning algorithms used nowadays. Specific to the application of formal methods to RL, we identify two main shortcomings with current approaches, which will be tackled in this project:

- Most of current verification methodologies do not scale well as the complexity of the application increases. This state explosion problem is particularly acute for RL scenarios, where agents might have to chose among a huge number of action/state transitions (e.g., autonomous cars).

- Systems with multiple learning agents are comparatively less explored, and therefore less understood, than single-agent settings, partly because of the high-dimensionality of their state-space and their non-stationarity. Yet, multi-agent settings are key for applications, such as platooning for autonomous vehicles and robot swarms.

To tackle both problems, we put forward an abstraction-based approach to verification, which is meant to reduce the state space, also by leveraging on symmetries of the system, while preserving all its safety-related features, thus leading to guaranteed and scalable safe behaviours.

The research envisaged in this project is timely and it fits with the current portfolio of EPSRC-funded research, as it aligns with the theme of AI and robotics, in particular the key strategic investment in trust-worthy autonomous systems. The present proposal is aimed at developing a verifiably safe RL methodology, which is meant to have a positive societal impact on the trust of the general public towards deployed AI solutions, and to facilitate their adoption within society at large.
Key Findings
This information can now be found on Gateway to Research (GtR) http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk
Potential use in non-academic contexts
This information can now be found on Gateway to Research (GtR) http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk
Description This information can now be found on Gateway to Research (GtR) http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk
Date Materialised
Sectors submitted by the Researcher
This information can now be found on Gateway to Research (GtR) http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk
Project URL:  
Further Information:  
Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk