Mobile applications as RL test environments

Atari is a popular environment for testing reinforcement learning algorithms. This got me thinking about the possibility of using mobile applications for such purposes. There might be some practical advantages for doing – both from a researcher and commercializers perspective.

For researchers, the ability to be exposed to multiple different sensors might provide value. Not only would you have access to pixel and audio data from the game, but you may also have microphone data from the environment. Also, accelerometer data can be included.

One of the biggest technical challenges to instrumenting an application for testing within this environment might be accessing the pixel stream in an efficient manner. From what I remember, there’s no way to efficiently access the current UIView pixel data. Creating the pixel data from the UIView is expensive computationally (TBD by how much), which may be problematic since this would need to be done at each time step. This is especially problematic if one were to provide RL tools / services to application developers (more on this later), since your solution would introduce latency – something to be avoided like the plague in mobile applications.

There would be obvious commercial appeal to a RL SDK + service that was easily integrated into an application. Such a service might, using senses common to any app (pixel data, sound) rather than needing to access any non observable application state, be able to make predictions about user behavior. Such predictions would be valuable for an application developer. For example, the sdk could trigger a notification that there was a good chance the user would quit the app within 5 seconds. (Yes, enabling application developers to suck users into spending even more time staring at their phones may be a particular type of evil).

Another challenge technically is that a couple test applications would need to be used to develop such an SDK / service. Perhaps a larger company with a popular app would allow you to integrate with their application to perform research. Or perhaps better yet, in an Android environment, this pixel data may be available, so you could experiment with such a solution even without the cooperation of the app developer.

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