The Alignment Ceiling: Objective Mismatch in Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback

Nathan Lambert,Roberto Calandra


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Reinforcement learning from human feedback (RLHF) has emerged as a powerful technique to make large language models (LLMs) more capable in complex settings. RLHF proceeds as collecting human preference data, training a reward model on said data, and optimizing a base ML model with respect to said reward for extrinsic evaluation metrics (e.g. MMLU, GSM8k). RLHF relies on many assumptions about how the various pieces fit together, such as a reward model capturing human preferences and an RL optimizer extracting the right signal from a reward model. As the RLHF process involves many distinct design decisions, it is easy to assume that multiple processes are correlated and therefore numerically linked. This apparent correlation is often not true, where reward models are easily overoptimized or RL optimizers can reduce performance on tasks not modeled in the data. Notable manifestations of models trained with imperfect RLHF systems are those that are prone to refusing basic requests for safety reasons or appearing lazy in generations. As chat model evaluation becomes increasingly nuanced, the reliance on a perceived link between reward model training, RL scores, and downstream performance drives these issues, which we describe as an objective mismatch. In this paper, we illustrate the causes of this issue, reviewing relevant literature from model-based reinforcement learning, and argue for solutions. By solving objective mismatch in RLHF, the ML models of the future will be more precisely aligned to user instructions for both safety and helpfulness.
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