Keywords: Differentiable Optimization, Machine Learning, Nonlinear Optimization, Combinatorial Optimization
TL;DR: SurCo learns linear surrogate problems for nonlinear combinatorial optimization by training high-quality linear surrogates using end-to-end gradient descent with better performance in two industrial domains
Abstract: Optimization problems with expensive nonlinear cost functions and combinatorial constraints appear in many real-world applications, but remain challenging to solve efficiently. Existing combinatorial solvers like Mixed Integer Linear Programming can be fast in practice but cannot readily optimize nonlinear cost functions, while general nonlinear optimizers like gradient descent often do not handle complex combinatorial structures, may require many queries of the cost function, and are prone to local optima. To bridge this gap, we propose SurCo that learns linear Surrogate costs which can be used by existing Combinatorial solvers to output good solutions to the original nonlinear combinatorial optimization problem, combining the flexibility of gradient-based methods with the structure of linear combinatorial optimization. We learn these linear surrogates end-to-end with the nonlinear loss by differentiating through the linear surrogate solver. Three variants of SurCo are proposed: SurCo-zero operates on individual nonlinear problems, SurCo-prior trains a linear surrogate predictor on distributions of problems, and SurCo-hybrid uses a model trained offline to warm start online solving for SurCo-zero. We analyze our method theoretically and empirically, showing smooth convergence and improved performance. Experiments show that compared to state-of-the-art approaches and expert-designed heuristics, SurCo obtains lower cost solutions with comparable or faster solve time for two real-world industry-level applications: embedding table sharding and inverse photonic design.
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