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Research highlights from keynote speakers at Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems (TAROS) Conference

The University of Surrey's Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences is hosting The 18th Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems (TAROS) Conference from the 19th - 21st July 2017.


ASPASIA: A toolkit for evaluating the effects of biological interventions on SBML model behaviour.

Abstract: A calibrated computational model reflects behaviours that are expected or observed in a complex system, providing a baseline upon which sensitivity analysis techniques can be used to analyse pathways that may impact model responses. However, calibration of a model where a behaviour depends on an intervention introduced after a defined time point is difficult, as model responses may be dependent on the conditions at the time the intervention is applied. We present ASPASIA (Automated Simulation Parameter Alteration and SensItivity Analysis), a cross-platform, open-source Java toolkit that addresses a key deficiency in software tools for understanding the impact an intervention has on system behaviour for models specified in Systems Biology Markup Language (SBML). ASPASIA can generate and modify models using SBML solver output as an initial parameter set, allowing interventions to be applied once a steady state has been reached. Additionally, multiple SBML models can be generated where a subset of parameter values are perturbed using local and global sensitivity analysis techniques, revealing the model's sensitivity to the intervention. To illustrate the capabilities of ASPASIA, we demonstrate how this tool has generated novel hypotheses regarding the mechanisms by which Th17-cell plasticity may be controlled in vivo. By using ASPASIA in conjunction with an SBML model of Th17-cell polarisation, we predict that promotion of the Th1-associated transcription factor T-bet, rather than inhibition of the Th17-associated transcription factor RORγt, is sufficient to drive switching of Th17 cells towards an IFN-γ-producing phenotype. Our approach can be applied to all SBML-encoded models to predict the effect that intervention strategies have on system behaviour. ASPASIA, released under the Artistic License (2.0), can be downloaded from http://www.york.ac.uk/ycil/software.

Pub.: 06 Feb '17, Pinned: 17 Jul '17

Distral: Robust Multitask Reinforcement Learning

Abstract: Most deep reinforcement learning algorithms are data inefficient in complex and rich environments, limiting their applicability to many scenarios. One direction for improving data efficiency is multitask learning with shared neural network parameters, where efficiency may be improved through transfer across related tasks. In practice, however, this is not usually observed, because gradients from different tasks can interfere negatively, making learning unstable and sometimes even less data efficient. Another issue is the different reward schemes between tasks, which can easily lead to one task dominating the learning of a shared model. We propose a new approach for joint training of multiple tasks, which we refer to as Distral (Distill & transfer learning). Instead of sharing parameters between the different workers, we propose to share a "distilled" policy that captures common behaviour across tasks. Each worker is trained to solve its own task while constrained to stay close to the shared policy, while the shared policy is trained by distillation to be the centroid of all task policies. Both aspects of the learning process are derived by optimizing a joint objective function. We show that our approach supports efficient transfer on complex 3D environments, outperforming several related methods. Moreover, the proposed learning process is more robust and more stable---attributes that are critical in deep reinforcement learning.

Pub.: 13 Jul '17, Pinned: 17 Jul '17