Combinatorial Optimization with Policy Adaptation using Latent Space Search

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Felix Chalumeau, Shikha Surana, Clément Bonnet, Nathan Grinsztajn, Arnu Pretorius, Alexandre Laterre, Tom Barrett


Combinatorial Optimization underpins many real-world applications and yet, designing performant algorithms to solve these complex, typically NP-hard, problems remains a significant research challenge. Reinforcement Learning (RL) provides a versatile framework for designing heuristics across a broad spectrum of problem domains. However, despite notable progress, RL has not yet supplanted industrial solvers as the go-to solution. Current approaches emphasize pre-training heuristics that construct solutions, but often rely on search procedures with limited variance, such as stochastically sampling numerous solutions from a single policy, or employing computationally expensive fine-tuning of the policy on individual problem instances. Building on the intuition that performant search at inference time should be anticipated during pre-training, we propose COMPASS, a novel RL approach that parameterizes a distribution of diverse and specialized policies conditioned on a continuous latent space. We evaluate COMPASS across three canonical problems - Travelling Salesman, Capacitated Vehicle Routing, and Job-Shop Scheduling - and demonstrate that our search strategy (i) outperforms state-of-the-art approaches in 9 out of 11 standard benchmarking tasks and (ii) generalizes better, surpassing all other approaches on a set of 18 procedurally transformed instance distributions.