Learning Optimal Search Algorithms from Data

by   Shuchi Chawla, et al.

Classical algorithm design is geared towards worst case instances and fails to exploit structure that may be present in typical instances. Is it possible to learn this structure from examples and exploit it algorithmically? We study this question in the simplest algorithmic context – search for a cheap solution within an unstructured space. This setting captures, for example, search for a short path to drive to work when only some routes may ever be relevant to consider, or shopping online when there may only be a handful of stores that offer the best prices. We propose a framework for learning optimal search algorithms from data that captures the tradeoff between the cost of the solution and the time to find it. We consider a setting with n alternatives each having an unknown cost that can be revealed one at a time. Given sample access to the distribution of the costs, our goal is to learn an algorithm that minimizes the expected sum of the cost of the chosen alternative and the total time to find it. Algorithms for this problem fall into three different classes, non-adaptive which always query a fixed set of alternatives, partially-adaptive that query alternatives in a fixed order until they decide to stop and fully-adaptive that choose the next query based on the costs they've seen. While approximately optimal fully-adaptive strategies cannot be learned efficiently, our main result is that it is possible to learn a partially-adaptive strategy that approximates the best non-adaptive and partially-adaptive strategies efficiently both in terms of samples and computation. We extend our results to settings where multiple alternatives must be chosen and study the case where any k alternatives are feasible and the case where the alternatives must form a matroid base e.g. picking a minimum cost spanning tree.


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