Improving Learning to Branch via Reinforcement LearningDownload PDF

Oct 17, 2020 (edited Dec 12, 2020)LMCA2020 PosterReaders: Everyone
  • Abstract: Branch-and-Bound~(B\&B) is a general and widely used algorithm paradigm for solving Mixed Integer Programming~(MIP). Recently there is a surge of interest in designing learning-based branching policies as a fast approximation of strong branching, a human-designed heuristic. In this work, we argue that strong branching is not a good expert to imitate for its poor decision quality when turning off its side effects in solving branch linear programming. To obtain more effective and non-myopic policies than a local heuristic, we formulate the branching process in MIP as reinforcement learning~(RL) and design a novel set representation and distance function for the B\&B process associated with a policy. Based on such representation, we develop a novelty search evolutionary strategy for optimizing the policy. Across a range of NP-hard problems, our trained RL agent significantly outperforms expert-designed branching rules and the state-of-the-art learning-based branching methods in terms of both speed and effectiveness. Our results suggest that with carefully designed policy networks and learning algorithms, reinforcement learning has the potential to advance algorithms for solving MIPs.
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