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Abstract:In many automated planning applications, action costs can be hard to specify. An example is the time needed to travel through a certain road segment, which depends on many factors, such as the current weather conditions. A natural way to address this issue is to learn to predict these parameters based on input features (e.g., weather forecasts) and use the predicted action costs in automated planning afterward. Decision-Focused Learning (DFL) has been successful in learning to predict the parameters of combinatorial optimization problems in a way that optimizes solution quality rather than prediction quality. This approach yields better results than treating prediction and optimization as separate tasks. In this paper, we investigate for the first time the challenges of implementing DFL for automated planning in order to learn to predict the action costs. There are two main challenges to overcome: (1) planning systems are called during gradient descent learning, to solve planning problems with negative action costs, which are not supported in planning. We propose novel methods for gradient computation to avoid this issue. (2) DFL requires repeated planner calls during training, which can limit the scalability of the method. We experiment with different methods approximating the optimal plan as well as an easy-to-implement caching mechanism to speed up the learning process. As the first work that addresses DFL for automated planning, we demonstrate that the proposed gradient computation consistently yields significantly better plans than predictions aimed at minimizing prediction error; and that caching can temper the computation requirements.

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Abstract:Constraint Programming (CP) has been successfully used to model and solve complex combinatorial problems. However, modeling is often not trivial and requires expertise, which is a bottleneck to wider adoption. In Constraint Acquisition (CA), the goal is to assist the user by automatically learning the model. In (inter)active CA, this is done by interactively posting queries to the user, e.g., asking whether a partial solution satisfies their (unspecified) constraints or not. While interac tive CA methods learn the constraints, the learning is related to symbolic concept learning, as the goal is to learn an exact representation. However, a large number of queries is still required to learn the model, which is a major limitation. In this paper, we aim to alleviate this limitation by tightening the connection of CA and Machine Learning (ML), by, for the first time in interactive CA, exploiting statistical ML methods. We propose to use probabilistic classification models to guide interactive CA to generate more promising queries. We discuss how to train classifiers to predict whether a candidate expression from the bias is a constraint of the problem or not, using both relation-based and scope-based features. We then show how the predictions can be used in all layers of interactive CA: the query generation, the scope finding, and the lowest-level constraint finding. We experimentally evaluate our proposed methods using different classifiers and show that our methods greatly outperform the state of the art, decreasing the number of queries needed to converge by up to 72%.

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Authors:Jayanta Mandi, James Kotary, Senne Berden, Maxime Mulamba, Victor Bucarey, Tias Guns, Ferdinando Fioretto

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Abstract:Decision-focused learning (DFL) is an emerging paradigm in machine learning which trains a model to optimize decisions, integrating prediction and optimization in an end-to-end system. This paradigm holds the promise to revolutionize decision-making in many real-world applications which operate under uncertainty, where the estimation of unknown parameters within these decision models often becomes a substantial roadblock. This paper presents a comprehensive review of DFL. It provides an in-depth analysis of the various techniques devised to integrate machine learning and optimization models, introduces a taxonomy of DFL methods distinguished by their unique characteristics, and conducts an extensive empirical evaluation of these methods proposing suitable benchmark dataset and tasks for DFL. Finally, the study provides valuable insights into current and potential future avenues in DFL research.

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Abstract:Twenty-seven years ago, E. Freuder highlighted that "Constraint programming represents one of the closest approaches computer science has yet made to the Holy Grail of programming: the user states the problem, the computer solves it". Nowadays, CP users have great modeling tools available (like Minizinc and CPMpy), allowing them to formulate the problem and then let a solver do the rest of the job, getting closer to the stated goal. However, this still requires the CP user to know the formalism and respect it. Another significant challenge lies in the expertise required to effectively model combinatorial problems. All this limits the wider adoption of CP. In this position paper, we investigate a possible approach to leverage pre-trained Large Language Models to extract models from textual problem descriptions. More specifically, we take inspiration from the Natural Language Processing for Optimization (NL4OPT) challenge and present early results with a decomposition-based prompting approach to GPT Models.

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Abstract:Constraint Acquisition (CA) systems can be used to assist in the modeling of constraint satisfaction problems. In (inter)active CA, the system is given a set of candidate constraints and posts queries to the user with the goal of finding the right constraints among the candidates. Current interactive CA algorithms suffer from at least two major bottlenecks. First, in order to converge, they require a large number of queries to be asked to the user. Second, they cannot handle large sets of candidate constraints, since these lead to large waiting times for the user. For this reason, the user must have fairly precise knowledge about what constraints the system should consider. In this paper, we alleviate these bottlenecks by presenting two novel methods that improve the efficiency of CA. First, we introduce a bottom-up approach named GrowAcq that reduces the maximum waiting time for the user and allows the system to handle much larger sets of candidate constraints. It also reduces the total number of queries for problems in which the target constraint network is not sparse. Second, we propose a probability-based method to guide query generation and show that it can significantly reduce the number of queries required to converge. We also propose a new technique that allows the use of openly accessible CP solvers in query generation, removing the dependency of existing methods on less well-maintained custom solvers that are not publicly available. Experimental results show that our proposed methods outperform state-of-the-art CA methods, reducing the number of queries by up to 60%. Our methods work well even in cases where the set of candidate constraints is 50 times larger than the ones commonly used in the literature.

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Authors:Mattia Silvestri, Senne Berden, Jayanta Mandi, Ali İrfan Mahmutoğulları, Maxime Mulamba, Allegra De Filippo, Tias Guns, Michele Lombardi

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Abstract:Many real-world optimization problems contain unknown parameters that must be predicted prior to solving. To train the predictive machine learning (ML) models involved, the commonly adopted approach focuses on maximizing predictive accuracy. However, this approach does not always lead to the minimization of the downstream task loss. Decision-focused learning (DFL) is a recently proposed paradigm whose goal is to train the ML model by directly minimizing the task loss. However, state-of-the-art DFL methods are limited by the assumptions they make about the structure of the optimization problem (e.g., that the problem is linear) and by the fact that can only predict parameters that appear in the objective function. In this work, we address these limitations by instead predicting \textit{distributions} over parameters and adopting score function gradient estimation (SFGE) to compute decision-focused updates to the predictive model, thereby widening the applicability of DFL. Our experiments show that by using SFGE we can: (1) deal with predictions that occur both in the objective function and in the constraints; and (2) effectively tackle two-stage stochastic optimization problems.

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Abstract:We build on a recently proposed method for stepwise explaining solutions of Constraint Satisfaction Problems (CSP) in a human-understandable way. An explanation here is a sequence of simple inference steps where simplicity is quantified using a cost function. The algorithms for explanation generation rely on extracting Minimal Unsatisfiable Subsets (MUS) of a derived unsatisfiable formula, exploiting a one-to-one correspondence between so-called non-redundant explanations and MUSs. However, MUS extraction algorithms do not provide any guarantee of subset minimality or optimality with respect to a given cost function. Therefore, we build on these formal foundations and tackle the main points of improvement, namely how to generate explanations efficiently that are provably optimal (with respect to the given cost metric). For that, we developed (1) a hitting set-based algorithm for finding the optimal constrained unsatisfiable subsets; (2) a method for re-using relevant information over multiple algorithm calls; and (3) methods exploiting domain-specific information to speed up the explanation sequence generation. We experimentally validated our algorithms on a large number of CSP problems. We found that our algorithms outperform the MUS approach in terms of explanation quality and computational time (on average up to 56 % faster than a standard MUS approach).

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Abstract:A major bottleneck in search-based program synthesis is the exponentially growing search space which makes learning large programs intractable. Humans mitigate this problem by leveraging the compositional nature of the real world: In structured domains, a logical specification can often be decomposed into smaller, complementary solution programs. We show that compositional segmentation can be applied in the programming by examples setting to divide the search for large programs across multiple smaller program synthesis problems. For each example, we search for a decomposition into smaller units which maximizes the reconstruction accuracy in the output under a latent task program. A structural alignment of the constituent parts in the input and output leads to pairwise correspondences used to guide the program synthesis search. In order to align the input/output structures, we make use of the Structure-Mapping Theory (SMT), a formal model of human analogical reasoning which originated in the cognitive sciences. We show that decomposition-driven program synthesis with structural alignment outperforms Inductive Logic Programming (ILP) baselines on string transformation tasks even with minimal knowledge priors. Unlike existing methods, the predictive accuracy of our agent monotonically increases for additional examples and achieves an average time complexity of $\mathcal{O}(m)$ in the number $m$ of partial programs for highly structured domains such as strings. We extend this method to the complex setting of visual reasoning in the Abstraction and Reasoning Corpus (ARC) for which ILP methods were previously infeasible.

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Authors:Stefano Teso, Laurens Bliek, Andrea Borghesi, Michele Lombardi, Neil Yorke-Smith, Tias Guns, Andrea Passerini

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Abstract:It is increasingly common to solve combinatorial optimisation problems that are partially-specified. We survey the case where the objective function or the relations between variables are not known or are only partially specified. The challenge is to learn them from available data, while taking into account a set of hard constraints that a solution must satisfy, and that solving the optimisation problem (esp. during learning) is computationally very demanding. This paper overviews four seemingly unrelated approaches, that can each be viewed as learning the objective function of a hard combinatorial optimisation problem: 1) surrogate-based optimisation, 2) empirical model learning, 3) decision-focused learning (`predict + optimise'), and 4) structured-output prediction. We formalise each learning paradigm, at first in the ways commonly found in the literature, and then bring the formalisations together in a compatible way using regret. We discuss the differences and interactions between these frameworks, highlight the opportunities for cross-fertilization and survey open directions.

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Abstract:We study the problem of learning the preferences of drivers and planners in the context of last mile delivery. Given a data set containing historical decisions and delivery locations, the goal is to capture the implicit preferences of the decision-makers. We consider two ways to use the historical data: one is through a probability estimation method that learns transition probabilities between stops (or zones). This is a fast and accurate method, recently studied in a VRP setting. Furthermore, we explore the use of machine learning to infer how to best balance multiple objectives such as distance, probability and penalties. Specifically, we cast the learning problem as a structured output prediction problem, where training is done by repeatedly calling the TSP solver. Another important aspect we consider is that for last-mile delivery, every address is a potential client and hence the data is very sparse. Hence, we propose a two-stage approach that first learns preferences at the zone level in order to compute a zone routing; after which a penalty-based TSP computes the stop routing. Results show that the zone transition probability estimation performs well, and that the structured output prediction learning can improve the results further. We hence showcase a successful combination of both probability estimation and machine learning, all the while using standard TSP solvers, both during learning and to compute the final solution; this means the methodology is applicable to other, real-life, TSP variants, or proprietary solvers.

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