• AI with Armand
  • Posts
  • What is RLHF - Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback

What is RLHF - Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback

The secret weapon for fair and human-aligned AI.

Welcome to the 587 new members this week! This newsletter now has 42,277 subscribers

Reinforcement learning from human feedback (RLHF) is a way to train AI by incorporating human input, helping AI better understand human values and preferences. This is unlike traditional reinforcement learning, which relies on pre-defined goals.

Today I’ll cover:

  • Introduction to RLHF

  • How RLHF Works

  • Benefits of RLHF

  • Challenges and Considerations

  • RLHF in Practice

  • RAG vs RLHF

  • Future of RLHF

Let’s Dive In! 🤿

Introduction to RLHF

RLHF operates on a simple yet powerful premise: leveraging human feedback to guide the learning process of AI models. This approach typically involves several key steps:

  1. Initial Training: The model undergoes initial training using a standard dataset to learn the basic structure of the task at hand.

  2. Human Interaction: After initial training, humans interact with the model by providing feedback on its outputs. This feedback can take various forms, such as rankings, corrections, or binary choices.

  3. Feedback Integration: The feedback is then used to adjust the model's parameters, either by direct incorporation into the training process or through a reward model that interprets the feedback and adjusts future predictions accordingly.

  4. Iterative Improvement: This process of receiving feedback and updating the model is repeated, with each iteration refining the model's performance to better align with human expectations.

How RLHF Works

Pretraining Language Models

The journey begins with pretraining a language model (LM) on a vast corpus of text. Leading organizations like OpenAI, Anthropic, and DeepMind have leveraged models ranging from 10 million to 280 billion parameters. This foundational model serves as the basis for understanding and generating human-like text.

Gathering Data and Training a Reward Model

A pivotal step in RLHF involves generating a reward model calibrated with human preferences. This model evaluates text sequences, assigning scores that represent human likability. Techniques vary, from fine-tuning preexisting LMs to training new models from scratch on preference data. The goal is a system that, given any text, can provide a scalar reward indicative of human preference.

Fine-tuning the LM with Reinforcement Learning

The fine-tuning stage involves adjusting the LM's parameters using reinforcement learning, specifically through algorithms like Proximal Policy Optimization (PPO). This process refines the model's outputs based on the reward model's evaluations, aiming to produce text that aligns more closely with human judgments.

Steps in RLHF (source: HuggingFace.com)

Benefits of RLHF

RLHF promises a closer alignment of AI outputs with human values, improved model performance through direct feedback, and enhanced personalization and adaptability across various applications.

  • Alignment with Human Values: Ensures AI systems better match human ethics and preferences.

  • Improved Performance: Direct feedback refines AI for better accuracy and relevance.

  • Personalization: Tailors AI responses to individual or cultural norms.

  • Flexibility: Adaptable across various tasks and applications.

  • Ethical AI Development: Encourages responsible AI creation by integrating human ethical standards.

  • Innovation: Promotes creative solutions in AI challenges.

  • Engagement and Collaboration: Enables broader participation in AI training and development.

Challenges and Considerations

Scaling human feedback, mitigating bias, and the complexity of integrating feedback into AI models pose significant challenges. Additionally, the selection of initial models and the potential for unexplored design spaces in RLHF training add layers of complexity to the process.

  • Scalability: Gathering and integrating feedback at scale is resource-intensive.

  • Bias and Subjectivity: Feedback can introduce bias, requiring diverse inputs.

  • Complex Implementation: Incorporating feedback adds complexity to AI training.

  • Feedback Quality: The effectiveness of RLHF depends on accurate and meaningful feedback.

  • Ethical Concerns: Deciding which feedback to use involves significant ethical decisions.

  • Data Privacy: Managing sensitive feedback data requires strict privacy measures.

  • Feedback Loops: Risk of AI becoming too optimized for specific feedback types.

  • Cost: High financial and time investment for gathering and processing feedback.

  • Evolving Standards: Human values change, necessitating continuous model updates.

  • Technical Limitations: Current tools may not fully support nuanced feedback integration.

RLHF in Practice

Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback (RLHF) has been a game-changer in making AI models more aligned with human preferences and values. Below, we dive into practical examples where RLHF has been applied, followed by a brief tutorial to get you started with implementing RLHF in your projects.

Practical Examples of RLHF

  1. Content Moderation: Social media platforms have started employing RLHF to refine their content moderation algorithms. By training models on user feedback regarding what constitutes offensive or harmful content, these platforms have significantly improved the accuracy and relevance of content filtering.

  2. Language Generation with InstructGPT: OpenAI's InstructGPT, a variant of GPT-3, is fine-tuned using RLHF to better understand and execute user instructions, making it more useful for applications like summarization, question-answering, and content creation.

  3. Personalized Recommendations: Streaming services like Netflix and Spotify use RLHF to fine-tune their recommendation algorithms based on user interactions. By learning from likes, skips, and watches, these services can curate more personalized content playlists.

  4. Ethical Decision Making in Autonomous Vehicles: Companies developing autonomous vehicles use RLHF to train their models on human ethical judgments in complex scenarios. This helps ensure that the vehicle's decisions in critical situations reflect a broader consensus on ethical priorities.


RAG (Retrieval-Augmented Generation) and RLHF (Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback) are both powerful techniques used to improve generative AI models, but they serve different purposes. Here's a breakdown of when to use each:

Use RAG when:

  • You have a large amount of existing text data relevant to the task.

  • You want to improve the factual accuracy and coherence of the generated text.

  • You need a fast and efficient way to generate text without extensive training.

RAG is essentially providing the model with additional context during the generation process by retrieving relevant information from a pre-built database. This can be particularly helpful for tasks like question answering, summarization, or generating different writing styles where factual accuracy and coherence are important.

Use RLHF when:

  • You want the model to learn and adapt to specific user preferences or goals.

  • You're dealing with subjective tasks where factual accuracy is less important than creativity or alignment with human values.

  • You have access to a mechanism for gathering high-quality human feedback.

RLHF involves an ongoing training process where the model receives feedback on its outputs and adjusts its behavior accordingly. This allows the model to learn what kind of outputs are most desirable to humans, leading to more creative and user-aligned results.

Here's a table summarizing the key differences:

Table to guide you on RAG vs RLHF

Future of RLHF

As RLHF continues to evolve, there are clear challenges to overcome, such as improving the quality of human annotations and exploring uncharted design options within the RLHF training process. Innovations in RL optimizers, exploration of offline RL for policy optimization, and balancing exploration-exploitation trade-offs represent exciting directions for future research. The ongoing development of RLHF aims not only to enhance AI's alignment with human preferences but also to deepen our understanding of the intricate relationship between AI systems and the human values they are designed to reflect.

There are new techniques that show promise, such as Direct Preference Optimization (DPO). Find here some links in case you want to learn more about this topic:

and that’s all for today. Enjoy the weekend folks,

Armand 🚀

Whenever you're ready, learn AI with me:

The 15-day Generative AI course: Join my 15-day Generative AI email course, and learn with just 5 minutes a day. You'll receive concise daily lessons focused on practical business applications. It is perfect for quickly learning and applying core AI concepts. 15,000+ Business Professionals are already learning with it.

Join the conversation

or to participate.