Portrait of Aaron Courville

Aaron Courville

Core Academic Member
Canada CIFAR AI Chair
Associate Professor, Université de Montréal, Department of Computer Science and Operations Research

Biography

Aaron Courville is a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Operations Research (DIRO) at Université de Montréal. He has a PhD from the Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University.

Courville was an early contributor to deep learning: he is a founding member of Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, a fellow in CIFAR’s Learning in Machines & Brains program and, with Ian Goodfellow and Yoshua Bengio, co-wrote the seminal textbook on deep learning.

His current research focuses on the development of deep learning models and methods. He is particularly interested in reinforcement learning, deep generative models and multimodal ML, as well as their applications, such as computer vision and natural language processing.

Courville holds a Canada CIFAR AI Chair and a Canada Research Chair in Learning Representations that Generalize Systematically. His research has been supported by Microsoft Research, Samsung, Hitachi, Sony and Google (Focused Research Award).

Current Students

PhD - Université de Montréal
PhD - Université de Montréal
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Undergraduate - Université de Montréal
Research Intern - Université de Montréal
Master's Research - Université de Montréal
PhD - Université de Montréal
Master's Research - Université de Montréal
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PhD - Université de Montréal
PhD - Université de Montréal
Collaborating researcher - Université de Montréal
Collaborating researcher
PhD - Université de Montréal
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PhD - Université de Montréal
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PhD - Université de Montréal
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PhD - Université de Montréal
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PhD - Université de Montréal
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PhD - Université de Montréal
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PhD - Université de Montréal
PhD - Université de Montréal
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Publications

SPARO: Selective Attention for Robust and Compositional Transformer Encodings for Vision
Ankit Vani
Bac Nguyen
Samuel Lavoie
Ranjay Krishna
Selective attention helps us focus on task-relevant aspects in the constant flood of our sensory input. This constraint in our perception al… (see more)lows us to robustly generalize under distractions and to new compositions of perceivable concepts. Transformers employ a similar notion of attention in their architecture, but representation learning models with transformer backbones like CLIP and DINO often fail to demonstrate robustness and compositionality. We highlight a missing architectural prior: unlike human perception, transformer encodings do not separately attend over individual concepts. In response, we propose SPARO, a read-out mechanism that partitions encodings into separately-attended slots, each produced by a single attention head. Using SPARO with CLIP imparts an inductive bias that the vision and text modalities are different views of a shared compositional world with the same corresponding concepts. Using SPARO, we demonstrate improvements on downstream recognition, robustness, retrieval, and compositionality benchmarks with CLIP (up to +14% for ImageNet, +4% for SugarCrepe), and on nearest neighbors and linear probe for ImageNet with DINO (+3% each). We also showcase a powerful ability to intervene and select individual SPARO concepts to further improve downstream task performance (up from +4% to +9% for SugarCrepe) and use this ability to study the robustness of SPARO's representation structure. Finally, we provide insights through ablation experiments and visualization of learned concepts.
Scattered Mixture-of-Experts Implementation
Shawn Tan
Yikang Shen
Rameswar Panda
We present ScatterMoE, an implementation of Sparse Mixture-of-Experts (SMoE) on GPUs. ScatterMoE builds upon existing implementations, and o… (see more)vercoming some of the limitations to improve inference and training speed, and memory footprint. This implementation achieves this by avoiding padding and making excessive copies of the input. We introduce ParallelLinear, the main component we use to build our implementation and the various kernels used to speed up the operation. We benchmark our implementation against Megablocks, and show that it enables a higher throughput and lower memory footprint. We also show how ParallelLinear enables extension of the Mixture-of-Experts concept by demonstrating with an implementation of Mixture of Attention.
In deep reinforcement learning, a pruned network is a good network
Johan Samir Obando Ceron
Recent work has shown that deep reinforcement learning agents have difficulty in effectively using their network parameters. We leverage pri… (see more)or insights into the advantages of sparse training techniques and demonstrate that gradual magnitude pruning enables agents to maximize parameter effectiveness. This results in networks that yield dramatic performance improvements over traditional networks and exhibit a type of"scaling law", using only a small fraction of the full network parameters.
Distributional GFlowNets with Quantile Flows
Dinghuai Zhang
Ling Pan
Ricky T. Q. Chen
Generative Flow Networks (GFlowNets) are a new family of probabilistic samplers where an agent learns a stochastic policy for generating com… (see more)plex combinatorial structure through a series of decision-making steps. Despite being inspired from reinforcement learning, the current GFlowNet framework is relatively limited in its applicability and cannot handle stochasticity in the reward function. In this work, we adopt a distributional paradigm for GFlowNets, turning each flow function into a distribution, thus providing more informative learning signals during training. By parameterizing each edge flow through their quantile functions, our proposed \textit{quantile matching} GFlowNet learning algorithm is able to learn a risk-sensitive policy, an essential component for handling scenarios with risk uncertainty. Moreover, we find that the distributional approach can achieve substantial improvement on existing benchmarks compared to prior methods due to our enhanced training algorithm, even in settings with deterministic rewards.
V-STaR: Training Verifiers for Self-Taught Reasoners
Arian Hosseini
Xingdi Yuan
Nikolay Malkin
Rishabh Agarwal
Common self-improvement approaches for large language models (LLMs), such as STaR (Zelikman et al., 2022), iteratively fine-tune LLMs on sel… (see more)f-generated solutions to improve their problem-solving ability. However, these approaches discard the large amounts of incorrect solutions generated during this process, potentially neglecting valuable information in such solutions. To address this shortcoming, we propose V-STaR that utilizes both the correct and incorrect solutions generated during the self-improvement process to train a verifier using DPO that judges correctness of model-generated solutions. This verifier is used at inference time to select one solution among many candidate solutions. Running V-STaR for multiple iterations results in progressively better reasoners and verifiers, delivering a 4% to 17% test accuracy improvement over existing self-improvement and verification approaches on common code generation and math reasoning benchmarks with LLaMA2 models.
Diffusion Generative Flow Samplers: Improving learning signals through partial trajectory optimization
Dinghuai Zhang
Ricky T. Q. Chen
Cheng-Hao Liu
LOQA: Learning with Opponent Q-Learning Awareness
Milad Aghajohari
Juan Agustin Duque
Tim Cooijmans
In various real-world scenarios, interactions among agents often resemble the dynamics of general-sum games, where each agent strives to opt… (see more)imize its own utility. Despite the ubiquitous relevance of such settings, decentralized machine learning algorithms have struggled to find equilibria that maximize individual utility while preserving social welfare. In this paper we introduce Learning with Opponent Q-Learning Awareness (LOQA) , a novel reinforcement learning algorithm tailored to optimizing an agent's individual utility while fostering cooperation among adversaries in partially competitive environments. LOQA assumes that each agent samples actions proportionally to their action-value function Q. Experimental results demonstrate the effectiveness of LOQA at achieving state-of-the-art performance in benchmark scenarios such as the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma and the Coin Game. LOQA achieves these outcomes with a significantly reduced computational footprint compared to previous works, making it a promising approach for practical multi-agent applications.
The Curse of Diversity in Ensemble-Based Exploration
Zhixuan Lin
Pierluca D'Oro
Evgenii Nikishin
We uncover a surprising phenomenon in deep reinforcement learning: training a diverse ensemble of data-sharing agents -- a well-established … (see more)exploration strategy -- can significantly impair the performance of the individual ensemble members when compared to standard single-agent training. Through careful analysis, we attribute the degradation in performance to the low proportion of self-generated data in the shared training data for each ensemble member, as well as the inefficiency of the individual ensemble members to learn from such highly off-policy data. We thus name this phenomenon *the curse of diversity*. We find that several intuitive solutions -- such as a larger replay buffer or a smaller ensemble size -- either fail to consistently mitigate the performance loss or undermine the advantages of ensembling. Finally, we demonstrate the potential of representation learning to counteract the curse of diversity with a novel method named Cross-Ensemble Representation Learning (CERL) in both discrete and continuous control domains. Our work offers valuable insights into an unexpected pitfall in ensemble-based exploration and raises important caveats for future applications of similar approaches.
Learning and Controlling Silicon Dopant Transitions in Graphene using Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy
Max Schwarzer
Jesse Farebrother
Joshua Greaves
Ekin Dogus Cubuk
Rishabh Agarwal
Sergei V. Kalinin
Igor Mordatch
Kevin M Roccapriore
We introduce a machine learning approach to determine the transition dynamics of silicon atoms on a single layer of carbon atoms, when stimu… (see more)lated by the electron beam of a scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM). Our method is data-centric, leveraging data collected on a STEM. The data samples are processed and filtered to produce symbolic representations, which we use to train a neural network to predict transition probabilities. These learned transition dynamics are then leveraged to guide a single silicon atom throughout the lattice to pre-determined target destinations. We present empirical analyses that demonstrate the efficacy and generality of our approach.
Using Representation Expressiveness and Learnability to Evaluate Self-Supervised Learning Methods
Yuchen Lu
Zhen Liu
Aristide Baratin
Romain Laroche
Learning Silicon Dopant Transitions in Graphene using Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy
Max Schwarzer
Jesse Farebrother
Joshua Greaves
Kevin Roccapriore
Ekin Dogus Cubuk
Rishabh Agarwal
Sergei Kalinin
Igor Mordatch
We introduce a machine learning approach to determine the transition rates of silicon atoms on a single layer of carbon atoms, when stimulat… (see more)ed by the electron beam of a scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM). Our method is data-centric, leveraging data collected on a STEM. The data samples are processed and filtered to produce symbolic representations, which we use to train a neural network to predict transition rates. These rates are then applied to guide a single silicon atom throughout the lattice to pre-determined target destinations. We present empirical analyses that demonstrate the efficacy and generality of our approach.
Learning Silicon Dopant Transitions in Graphene using Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy
Max Schwarzer
Jesse Farebrother
Joshua Greaves
Kevin Roccapriore
Ekin Dogus Cubuk
Rishabh Agarwal
Sergei Kalinin
Igor Mordatch
We introduce a machine learning approach to determine the transition rates of silicon atoms on a single layer of carbon atoms, when stimulat… (see more)ed by the electron beam of a scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM). Our method is data-centric, leveraging data collected on a STEM. The data samples are processed and filtered to produce symbolic representations, which we use to train a neural network to predict transition rates. These rates are then applied to guide a single silicon atom throughout the lattice to pre-determined target destinations. We present empirical analyses that demonstrate the efficacy and generality of our approach.