Intrinsic fluctuations of reinforcement learning promote cooperation
Published in Scientific Reports, 2023
In this work, we ask for and answer what makes classical temporal-difference reinforcement learning with 𝜖 -greedy strategies cooperative. Cooperating in social dilemma situations is vital for animals, humans, and machines. While evolutionary theory revealed a range of mechanisms promoting cooperation, the conditions under which agents learn to cooperate are contested. Here, we demonstrate which and how individual elements of the multi-agent learning setting lead to cooperation. We use the iterated Prisoner’s dilemma with one-period memory as a testbed. Each of the two learning agents learns a strategy that conditions the following action choices on both agents’ action choices of the last round. We find that next to a high caring for future rewards, a low exploration rate, and a small learning rate, it is primarily intrinsic stochastic fluctuations of the reinforcement learning process which double the final rate of cooperation to up to 80%. Thus, inherent noise is not a necessary evil of the iterative learning process. It is a critical asset for the learning of cooperation. However, we also point out the trade-off between a high likelihood of cooperative behavior and achieving this in a reasonable amount of time. Our findings are relevant for purposefully designing cooperative algorithms and regulating undesired collusive effects.
Recommended citation: Barfuss, W., & Meylahn, J. M. (2023). "Intrinsic fluctuations of reinforcement learning promote cooperation" Scientific Reports . 13(1309). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-27672-7