Reinforcement learning is a very useful (and currently popular) subtype of machine learning and artificial intelligence. It is based on the principle that agents, when placed in an interactive environment, can learn from their actions via rewards associated with the actions, and improve the time to achieve their goal.

In this article, we’ll explore the fundamental concepts of reinforcement learning and discuss its key components, types, and applications.

Definition of Reinforcement Learning

We can define reinforcement learning as a machine learning technique involving an agent who needs to decide which actions it needs to do to perform a task that has been assigned to it most effectively. For this, rewards are assigned to the different actions that the agent can take at different situations or states of the environment. Initially, the agent has no idea about the best or correct actions. Using reinforcement learning, it explores its action choices via trial and error and figures out the best set of actions for completing its assigned task.

The basic idea behind a reinforcement learning agent is to learn from experience. Just like humans learn lessons from their past successes and mistakes, reinforcement learning agents do the same – when they do something “good” they get a reward, but, if they do something “bad”, they get penalized. The reward reinforces the good actions while the penalty avoids the bad ones.

Reinforcement learning requires several key components:

  • Agent – This is the “who” or the subject of the process, which performs different actions to perform a task that has been assigned to it.
  • Environment – This is the “where” or a situation in which the agent is placed.
  • Actions – This is the “what” or the steps an agent needs to take to reach the goal.
  • Rewards – This is the feedback an agent receives after performing an action.

Before we dig deep into the technicalities, let’s warm up with a real-life example. Reinforcement isn’t new, and we’ve used it for different purposes for centuries. One of the most basic examples is dog training.

Let’s say you’re in a park, trying to teach your dog to fetch a ball. In this case, the dog is the agent, and the park is the environment. Once you throw the ball, the dog will run to catch it, and that’s the action part. When he brings the ball back to you and releases it, he’ll get a reward (a treat). Since he got a reward, the dog will understand that his actions were appropriate and will repeat them in the future. If the dog doesn’t bring the ball back, he may get some “punishment” – you may ignore him or say “No!” After a few attempts (or more than a few, depending on how stubborn your dog is), the dog will fetch the ball with ease.

We can say that the reinforcement learning process has three steps:

  1. Interaction
  2. Learning
  3. Decision-making

Types of Reinforcement Learning

There are two types of reinforcement learning: model-based and model-free.

Model-Based Reinforcement Learning

With model-based reinforcement learning (RL), there’s a model that an agent uses to create additional experiences. Think of this model as a mental image that the agent can analyze to assess whether particular strategies could work.

Some of the advantages of this RL type are:

  • It doesn’t need a lot of samples.
  • It can save time.
  • It offers a safe environment for testing and exploration.

The potential drawbacks are:

  • Its performance relies on the model. If the model isn’t good, the performance won’t be good either.
  • It’s quite complex.

Model-Free Reinforcement Learning

In this case, an agent doesn’t rely on a model. Instead, the basis for its actions lies in direct interactions with the environment. An agent tries different scenarios and tests whether they’re successful. If yes, the agent will keep repeating them. If not, it will try another scenario until it finds the right one.

What are the advantages of model-free reinforcement learning?

  • It doesn’t depend on a model’s accuracy.
  • It’s not as computationally complex as model-based RL.
  • It’s often better for real-life situations.

Some of the drawbacks are:

  • It requires more exploration, so it can be more time-consuming.
  • It can be dangerous because it relies on real-life interactions.

Model-Based vs. Model-Free Reinforcement Learning: Example

Understanding model-based and model-free RL can be challenging because they often seem too complex and abstract. We’ll try to make the concepts easier to understand through a real-life example.

Let’s say you have two soccer teams that have never played each other before. Therefore, neither of the teams knows what to expect. At the beginning of the match, Team A tries different strategies to see whether they can score a goal. When they find a strategy that works, they’ll keep using it to score more goals. This is model-free reinforcement learning.

On the other hand, Team B came prepared. They spent hours investigating strategies and examining the opponent. The players came up with tactics based on their interpretation of how Team A will play. This is model-based reinforcement learning.

Who will be more successful? There’s no way to tell. Team B may be more successful in the beginning because they have previous knowledge. But Team A can catch up quickly, especially if they use the right tactics from the start.

Reinforcement Learning Algorithms

A reinforcement learning algorithm specifies how an agent learns suitable actions from the rewards. RL algorithms are divided into two categories: value-based and policy gradient-based.

Value-Based Algorithms

Value-based algorithms learn the value at each state of the environment, where the value of a state is given by the expected rewards to complete the task while starting from that state.

Q-Learning

This model-free, off-policy RL algorithm focuses on providing guidelines to the agent on what actions to take and under what circumstances to win the reward. The algorithm uses Q-tables in which it calculates the potential rewards for different state-action pairs in the environment. The table contains Q-values that get updated after each action during the agent’s training. During execution, the agent goes back to this table to see which actions have the best value.

Deep Q-Networks (DQN)

Deep Q-networks, or deep q-learning, operate similarly to q-learning. The main difference is that the algorithm in this case is based on neural networks.

SARSA

The acronym stands for state-action-reward-state-action. SARSA is an on-policy RL algorithm that uses the current action from the current policy to learn the value.

Policy-Based Algorithms

These algorithms directly update the policy to maximize the reward. There are different policy gradient-based algorithms: REINFORCE, proximal policy optimization, trust region policy optimization, actor-critic algorithms, advantage actor-critic, deep deterministic policy gradient (DDPG), and twin-delayed DDPG.

Examples of Reinforcement Learning Applications

The advantages of reinforcement learning have been recognized in many spheres. Here are several concrete applications of RL.

Robotics and Automation

With RL, robotic arms can be trained to perform human-like tasks. Robotic arms can give you a hand in warehouse management, packaging, quality testing, defect inspection, and many other aspects.

Another notable role of RL lies in automation, and self-driving cars are an excellent example. They’re introduced to different situations through which they learn how to behave in specific circumstances and offer better performance.

Gaming and Entertainment

Gaming and entertainment industries certainly benefit from RL in many ways. From AlphaGo (the first program that has beaten a human in the board game Go) to video games AI, RL offers limitless possibilities.

Finance and Trading

RL can optimize and improve trading strategies, help with portfolio management, minimize risks that come with running a business, and maximize profit.

Healthcare and Medicine

RL can help healthcare workers customize the best treatment plan for their patients, focusing on personalization. It can also play a major role in drug discovery and testing, allowing the entire sector to get one step closer to curing patients quickly and efficiently.

Basics for Implementing Reinforcement Learning

The success of reinforcement learning in a specific area depends on many factors.

First, you need to analyze a specific situation and see which RL algorithm suits it. Your job doesn’t end there; now you need to define the environment and the agent and figure out the right reward system. Without them, RL doesn’t exist. Next, allow the agent to put its detective cap on and explore new features, but ensure it uses the existing knowledge adequately (strike the right balance between exploration and exploitation). Since RL changes rapidly, you want to keep your model updated. Examine it every now and then to see what you can tweak to keep your model in top shape.

Explore the World of Possibilities With Reinforcement Learning

Reinforcement learning goes hand-in-hand with the development and modernization of many industries. We’ve been witnesses to the incredible things RL can achieve when used correctly, and the future looks even better. Hop in on the RL train and immerse yourself in this fascinating world.

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Il Sole 24 Ore: 100 thousand IT professionals missing
OPIT - Open Institute of Technology
OPIT - Open Institute of Technology
May 14, 2024 6 min read

Written on April 24th 2024

Source here: Il Sole 24 Ore (full article in Italian)


Open Institute of Technology: 100 thousand IT professionals missing

Eurostat data processed and disseminated by OPIT. Stem disciplines: the share of graduates in Italy between the ages of 20 and 29 is 18.3%, compared to the European 21.9%

Today, only 29% of young Italians between 25 and 34 have a degree. Not only that: compared to other European countries, the comparison is unequal given that the average in the Old Continent is 46%, bringing Italy to the penultimate place in this ranking, ahead only of Romania. The gap is evident even if the comparison is limited to STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) where the share of graduates in Italy between the ages of 20 and 29 is 18.3%, compared to the European 21.9%, with peaks of virtuosity which in the case of France that reaches 29.2%. Added to this is the continuing problem of the mismatch between job supply and demand, so much so that 62.8% of companies struggle to find professionals in the technological and IT fields.

The data

The Eurostat data was processed and disseminated by OPIT – Open Institute of Technology. an academic institution accredited at European level, active in the university level education market with online Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the technological and digital fields. We are therefore witnessing a phenomenon with worrying implications on the future of the job market in Italy and on the potential loss of competitiveness of our companies at a global level, especially if inserted in a context in which the macroeconomic scenario in the coming years will undergo a profound discontinuity linked to the arrival of “exponential” technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and robotics, but also to the growing threats related to cybersecurity.

Requirements and updates

According to European House Ambrosetti, over 2,000,000 professionals will have to update their skills in the Digital and IT area by 2026, also to take advantage of the current 100,000 vacant IT positions, as estimated by Frank Recruitment Group. But not only that: the Italian context, which is unfavorable for providing the job market with graduates and skills, also has its roots in the chronic birth rate that characterizes our country: according to ISTAT data, in recent years the number of newborns has fallen by 28%, bringing Italy’s birth rate to 1.24, among the lowest in Europe, where the average is 1.46.

Profumo: “Structural deficiency”

“The chronic problem of the absence of IT professionals is structural and of a dual nature: on one hand the number of newborns – therefore, potential “professionals of the future” – is constantly decreasing; on the other hand, the percentage of young people who acquires degrees are firmly among the lowest in Europe”, declared Francesco Profumo, former Minister of Education and rector of OPIT – Open Institute of Technology. “The reasons are varied: from the cost of education (especially if undertaken off-site), to a university offering that is poorly aligned with changes in society, to a lack of awareness and orientation towards STEM subjects, which guarantee the highest employment rates. Change necessarily involves strong investments in the university system (and, in general, in the education system) at the level of the country, starting from the awareness that a functioning education system is the main driver of growth and development in the medium to long term. It is a debated and discussed topic on which, however, a clear and ambitious position is never taken.”

Stagnant context and educational offer

In this stagnant context, the educational offer that comes from online universities increasingly meets the needs of flexibility, quality and cost of recently graduated students, university students looking for specialization and workers interested in updating themselves with innovative skills. According to data from the Ministry of University and Research, enrollments in accredited online universities in Italy have grown by over 141 thousand units in ten years (since 2011), equal to 293.9%. Added to these are the academic institutions accredited at European level, such as OPIT, whose educational offering is overall capable of opening the doors to hundreds of thousands of students, with affordable costs and extremely innovative and updated degree paths.

Analyzing the figures

An analysis of Eurostat statistics relating to the year 2021 highlights that 27% of Europeans aged between 16 and 74 have attended an entirely digital course. The highest share is recorded in Ireland (46%), Finland and Sweden (45%) and the Netherlands (44%). The lowest in Romania (10%), Bulgaria (12%) and Croatia (18%). Italy is at 20%. “With OPIT” – adds Riccardo Ocleppo, founder and director – “we have created a new model of online academic institution, oriented towards new technologies, with innovative programs, a strong practical focus, and an international approach, with professors and students from 38 countries around the world, and teaching in English. We intend to train Italian students not only on current and updated skills, but to prepare them for an increasingly dynamic and global job market. Our young people must be able to face the challenges of the future like those who study at Stanford or Oxford: with solid skills, but also with relational and attitudinal skills that lead them to create global companies and startups or work in multinationals like their international colleagues. The increasing online teaching offer, if well structured and with quality, represents an incredible form of democratization of education, making it accessible at low costs and with methods that adapt to the flexibility needs of many working students.”

Point of reference

With two degrees already starting in September 2023 – a three-year degree (BSc) in Modern Computer Science and a specialization (MSc) in Applied Data Science & AI – and 4 starting in September 2024: a three-year degree (BSc) in Digital Business, and the specializations (MSc) in Enterprise Cybersecurity, Applied Digital Business and Responsible Artificial Intelligence (AI), OPIT is an academic institution of reference for those who intend to respond to the demands of a job market increasingly oriented towards the field of artificial intelligence. Added to this are a high-profile international teaching staff and an exclusively online educational offer focused on the technological and digital fields.

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Times of India: The 600,000 IT job shortage in India and how to solve it
OPIT - Open Institute of Technology
OPIT - Open Institute of Technology
May 2, 2024 3 min read

Written on April 25th 2024

Source here: Times of India 


The job market has never been a straightforward path. Ask anyone who has ever looked for a job, certainly within the last decade, and they can tell you as much. But with the rapid development of AI and machine learning, concerns are growing for people about their career options, with a report from Randstad finding that 7 in 10 people in India are concerned about their job being eliminated by AI.

 Employers have their own share of concerns. According to The World Economic Forum, 97 million new AI-related jobs will be created by 2025 and the share of jobs requiring AI skills will increase by 58%. The IT industry in India is experiencing a tremendous surge in demand for skilled professionals on disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, cybersecurity and, according to Nasscom, this is leading to a shortage of 600,000 profiles.

 So how do we fill those gaps? Can we democratize access to top-tier higher education in technology?

These are the questions that Riccardo Ocleppo, the engineer who founded a hugely successful ed-tech platform connecting international students with global Universities, Docsity, asked himself for years. Until he took action and launched the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT), together with the Former Minister of Education of Italy, Prof. Francesco Profumo, to help people take control of their future careers.

OPIT offers BSc and MSc degrees in Computer Science, AI, Data Science, Cybersecurity, and Digital Business, attracting students from over 38 countries worldwide. Through innovative learning experiences and affordable tuition fees starting at €4,050 per year, OPIT empowers students to pursue their educational goals without the financial and personal burden of relocating.

The curriculum, delivered through a mix of live and pre-recorded lectures, equips students with the latest technology skills, as well as business and strategic acumen necessary for careers in their chosen fields. Moreover, OPIT’s EU-accredited degrees enable graduates to pursue employment opportunities in Europe, with recognition by WES facilitating transferability to the US and Canada.

OPIT’s commitment to student success extends beyond academics, with a full-fledged career services department led by Mike McCulloch. Remote students benefit from OPIT’s “digital campus,” fostering connections through vibrant discussion forums, online events, and networking opportunities with leading experts and professors.

Faculty at OPIT, hailing from prestigious institutions and industry giants like Amazon and Microsoft, bring a wealth of academic and practical experience to the table. With a hands-on, practical teaching approach, OPIT prepares students for the dynamic challenges of the modern job market.

In conclusion, OPIT stands as a beacon of hope for individuals seeking to future-proof their careers in technology. By democratizing access to high-quality education and fostering a global learning community, OPIT empowers students to seize control of their futures and thrive in the ever-evolving tech landscape.

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