AAAI Publications, Twenty-Fourth AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence

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Searching Without a Heuristic: Efficient Use of Abstraction
Bradford John Larsen, Ethan Burns, Wheeler Ruml, Robert Holte

Last modified: 2010-07-03


In problem domains where an informative heuristic evaluation function is not known or not easily computed, abstraction can be used to derive admissible heuristic values. Optimal path lengths in the abstracted problem are consistent heuristic estimates for the original problem. Pattern databases are the traditional method of creating such heuristics, but they exhaustively compute costs for all abstract states and are thus usually appropriate only when all instances share the same single goal state. Hierarchical heuristic search algorithms address these shortcomings by searching for paths in the abstract space on an as-needed basis. However, existing hierarchical algorithms search less efficiently than pattern database constructors: abstract nodes may be expanded many times during the course of a base-level search. We present a novel hierarchical heuristic search algorithm, called Switchback, that uses an alternating direction of search to avoid abstract node re-expansions. This algorithm is simple to implement and demonstrates superior performance to existing hierarchical heuristic search algorithms on several standard benchmarks.


heuristic search; abstraction; pattern database; problem solving

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