Where Do Rewards Come From?


Reinforcement learning has achieved broad and successful application in cognitive science in part because of its general formulation of the adaptive control problem as the maximization of a scalar reward function. The computational reinforcement learning framework is motivated by correspondences to animal reward processes, but it leaves the source and nature of the rewards unspecified. This paper advances a general computational framework for reward that places it in an evolutionary context, formulating a notion of an optimal reward function given a fitness function and some distribution of environments. Novel results from computational experiments show how traditional notions of extrinsically and intrinsically motivated behaviors may emerge from such optimal reward functions. In the experiments these rewards are discovered through automated search rather than crafted by hand. The precise form of the optimal reward functions need not bear a direct relationship to the fitness function, but may nonetheless confer significant advantages over rewards based only on fitness.

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