Effective Heuristics for Suboptimal Best-First Search

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Suboptimal heuristic search algorithms such as weighted A* and greedy best-first search are widely used to solve problems for which guaranteed optimal solutions are too expensive to obtain. These algorithms crucially rely on a heuristic function to guide their search. However, most research on building heuristics addresses optimal solving. In this paper, we illustrate how established wisdom for constructing heuristics for optimal search can fail when considering suboptimal search. We consider the behavior of greedy best-first search in detail and we test several hypotheses for predicting when a heuristic will be effective for it. Our results suggest that a predictive characteristic is a heuristic's goal distance rank correlation (GDRC), a robust measure of whether it orders nodes according to distance to a goal. We demonstrate that GDRC can be used to automatically construct abstraction-based heuristics for greedy best-first search that are more effective than those built by methods oriented toward optimal search. These results reinforce the point that suboptimal search deserves sustained attention and specialized methods of its own.

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