From Support Propagation to Belief Propagation in Constraint Programming

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Gilles Pesant


The distinctive driving force of constraint programming to solve combinatorial problems has been a privileged access to problem structure through the high-level models it uses. From that exposed structure in the form of so-called global constraints, powerful inference algorithms have shared information between constraints by propagating it through shared variables’ domains, traditionally by removing unsupported values. This paper investigates a richer propagation medium made possible by recent work on counting solutions inside constraints. Beliefs about individual variable-value assignments are exchanged between contraints and iteratively adjusted. It generalizes standard support propagation and aims to converge to the true marginal distributions of the solutions over individual variables. Its advantage over standard belief propagation is that the higher-level models featuring large-arity (global) constraints do not tend to create as many cycles, which are known to be problematic for convergence. The necessary architectural changes to a constraint programming solver are described and an empirical study of the proposal is conducted on its implementation. We find that it provides close approximations to the true marginals and that it significantly improves search guidance.

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