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CSM6120 Introduction to Intelligent Systems. Search 3. Quick review. Uninformed techniques. Informed search. What we’ll look at: Heuristics Hill-climbing Best-first search Greedy search A* search. Heuristics. A heuristic is a rule or principle used to guide a search

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Csm6120 introduction to intelligent systems

CSM6120Introduction to Intelligent Systems

Search 3

Quick review
Quick review

  • Uninformed techniques

Informed search
Informed search

  • What we’ll look at:

    • Heuristics

    • Hill-climbing

    • Best-first search

      • Greedy search

      • A* search


  • A heuristic is a rule or principle used to guide a search

    • It provides a way of giving additional knowledge of the problem to the search algorithm

    • Must provide a reasonably reliable estimate of how far a state is from a goal, or the cost of reaching the goal via that state

  • A heuristic evaluation function is a way of calculating or estimating such distances/cost

Heuristics and algorithms
Heuristics and algorithms

  • A correct algorithm will find you the best solution given good data and enough time

    • It is precisely specified

  • A heuristic gives you a workable solution in a reasonable time

    • It gives a guided or directed solution

Evaluation function
Evaluation function

  • There are an infinite number of possible heuristics

    • Criteria is that it returns an assessment of the point in the search

  • If an evaluation function is accurate, it will lead directly to the goal

  • More realistically, this usually ends up as “seemingly-best-search”

  • Traditionally, the lowest value after evaluation is chosen as we usually want the lowest cost or nearest

Heuristic evaluation functions
Heuristic evaluation functions

  • Estimate of expected utility value from a current position

    • E.g. value for pieces left in chess

    • Way of judging the value of a position

  • Humans have to do this as we do not evaluate all possible alternatives

    • These heuristics usually come from years of human experience

  • Performance of the game playing program is very dependent on the quality of the function

Heuristic evaluation functions1
Heuristic evaluation functions

  • Must agree with the ordering a utility function would give at terminal states (leaf nodes)

  • Computation must not take long

  • For non-terminal states, the evaluation function must strongly correlate with the actual chance of ‘winning’

  • The values can be learned using machine learning techniques

Heuristics for the 8 puzzle
Heuristics for the 8-puzzle

  • Number of tiles out of place (h1)

  • Manhattan distance (h2)

    • Sum of the distance of each tile from its goal position

    • Tiles can only move up or down  city blocks

The 8 puzzle
The 8-puzzle

  • Using a heuristic evaluation function:

    • h(n) = sum of the distance each tile is from its goal position

Goal state

Current state

Current state





Search algorithms
Search algorithms

  • Hill climbing

  • Best-first search

    • Greedy best-first search

    • A*

Iterative improvement
Iterative improvement

  • Consider all states laid out on the surface of a landscape

  • The height at any point corresponds to the result of the evaluation function

Hill climbing greedy local
Hill-climbing (greedy local)

  • Start with current-state = initial-state

  • Until current-state = goal-state OR there is no change in current-state do:

    • a) Get the children of current-state and apply evaluation function to each child

    • b) If one of the children has a better score, then set current-state to the child with the best score

  • Loop that moves in the direction of decreasing (increasing) value

    • Terminates when a “dip” (or “peak”) is reached

    • If more than one best direction, the algorithm can choose at random

Hill climbing drawbacks
Hill-climbing drawbacks

  • Local minima (maxima)

    • Local, rather than global minima (maxima)

  • Plateau

    • Area of state space where the evaluation function is essentially flat

    • The search will conduct a random walk

  • Ridges

    • Causes problems when states along the ridge are not directly connected - the only choice at each point on the ridge requires uphill (downhill) movement

Best first search
Best-first search

  • Like hill climbing, but eventually tries all paths as it uses list of nodes yet to be explored

  • Start with priority-queue = initial-state

  • While priority-queue not empty do:

    • a) Remove best node from the priority-queue

    • b) If it is the goal node, return success. Otherwise find its successors

    • c) Apply evaluation function to successors and add to priority-queue

Best first search1
Best-first search

  • Different best-first strategies have different evaluation functions

  • Some use heuristics only, others also use cost functions: f(n) = g(n) + h(n)

  • For Greedy and A*, our heuristic is:

    • Heuristic function h(n) = estimated cost of the cheapest path from node n to a goal node

    • For now, we will introduce the constraint that if n is a goal node, then h(n) = 0

Greedy best first search
Greedy best-first search

  • Greedy BFS tries to expand the node that is ‘closest’ to the goal assuming it will lead to a solution quickly

    • f(n) = h(n)

    • aka “greedy search”

  • Differs from hill-climbing – allows backtracking

  • Implementation

    • Expand the “most desirable” node into the frontier queue

    • Sort the queue in decreasing order of desirability

Greedy best first search4
Greedy best-first search

  • Complete

    • No, GBFS can get stuck in loops (e.g. bouncing back and forth between cities)

  • Time complexity

    • O(bm) but a good heuristic can have dramatic improvement

  • Space complexity

    • O(bm) – keeps all the nodes in memory

  • Optimal

    • No! (A – S – F – B = 450, shorter journey is possible)

Practical 2
Practical 2

  • Implement greedy best-first search for pathfinding

  • Look at code for AStarPathFinder.java

A search
A* search

  • A* (A star) is the most widely known form of Best-First search

    • It evaluates nodes by combining g(n) and h(n)

  • f(n) = g(n) + h(n)

  • Where

    • g(n) = cost so far to reach n

    • h(n) = estimated cost to goal from n

    • f(n) = estimated total cost of path through n






A search1
A* search

  • When h(n) = actual cost to goal, h*(n)

    • Only nodes in the correct path are expanded

    • Optimal solution is found

  • When h(n) < h*(n)

    • Additional nodes are expanded

    • Optimal solution is found

  • When h(n) > h*(n)

    • Optimal solution can be overlooked

A search7
A* search

  • Complete and optimal if h(n) does not overestimate the true cost of a solution through n

  • Time complexity

    • Exponential in [relative error of h x length of solution]

    • The better the heuristic, the better the time

      • Best case h is perfect, O(d)

      • Worst case h = 0, O(bd) same as BFS

  • Space complexity

    • Keeps all nodes in memory and save in case of repetition

    • This is O(bd) or worse

    • A* usually runs out of space before it runs out of time

A exercise
A* exercise

NodeCoordinatesSL Distance to K

A (5,9) 8.0

B (3,8) 7.3

C (8,8) 7.6

D (5,7) 6.0

E (7,6) 5.4

F (4,5) 4.1

G (6,5) 4.1

H (3,3) 2.8

I (5,3) 2.0

J (7,2) 2.2

K (5,1) 0.0

Gbfs exercise
GBFS exercise


A (5,9) 8.0

B (3,8) 7.3

C (8,8) 7.6

D (5,7) 6.0

E (7,6) 5.4

F (4,5) 4.1

G (6,5) 4.1

H (3,3) 2.8

I (5,3) 2.0

J (7,2) 2.2

K (5,1) 0.0

To think about
To think about...

f(n) = g(n) + h(n)

  • What algorithm does A* emulate if we set

    • h(n) = -2*g(n)

    • h(n) = 0

  • Can you make A* behave like Breadth-First Search?

Admissible heuristics
Admissible heuristics

  • A heuristic h(n) is admissible if for every node n,

    h(n) ≤ h*(n), where h*(n) is the true cost to reach the goal state from n

    • An admissible heuristic never overestimates the cost to reach the goal

    • Example: hSLD(n) (never overestimates the actual road distance)

  • Theorem: If h(n) is admissible, A* is optimal (for tree-search)

Optimality of a proof
Optimality of A* (proof)

  • Suppose some suboptimal goal G2has been generated and is in the frontier. Let n be an unexpanded node in the frontier such that n is on a shortest path to an optimal goal G

  • f(G2) = g(G2) since h(G2) = 0 (true for any goal state)

  • g(G2) > g(G) since G2 is suboptimal

  • f(G) = g(G) since h(G) = 0

  • f(G2) > f(G) from above

Optimality of a proof1
Optimality of A* (proof)

  • f(G2) > f(G)

  • h(n) ≤ h*(n) since h is admissible

  • g(n) + h(n) ≤ g(n) + h*(n)

  • f(n) ≤ f(G)

  • Hence f(G2) > f(n), and A* will never select G2 for expansion

Heuristic functions
Heuristic functions

  • Admissible heuristic example: for the 8-puzzleh1(n) = number of misplaced tilesh2(n) = total Manhattan distance i.e. no of squares from desired location of each tileh1(S) = ??h2(S) = ??

Heuristic functions1
Heuristic functions

  • Admissible heuristic example: for the 8-puzzle h1(n) = number of misplaced tilesh2(n) = total Manhattan distance i.e. no of squares from desired location of each tileh1(S) = 6h2(S) = 4+0+3+3+1+0+2+1 = 14

Heuristic functions2
Heuristic functions

  • Dominance/Informedness

    • if h1(n)  h2(n) for all n (both admissible)then h2 dominates h1 and is better for searchTypical search costs:

    • d = 12 IDS = 3,644,035 nodes A*(h1) = 227 nodes A*(h2) = 73 nodes

    • d = 24 IDS  54,000,000,000 nodes A*(h1) = 39,135 nodes A*(h2) = 1,641 nodes

Heuristic functions3
Heuristic functions

  • Admissible heuristicexample: for the 8-puzzleh1(n) = number of misplaced tilesh2(n) = total Manhattan distance i.e. no of squares from desired location of each tileh1(S) = 6h2(S) = 4+0+3+3+1+0+2+1 = 14

But how do we come up with a heuristic?

Relaxed problems
Relaxed problems

  • Admissible heuristics can be derived from the exact solution cost of a relaxed version of the problem

  • If the rules of the 8-puzzle are relaxed so that a tile can move anywhere, then h1(n) gives the shortest solution

  • If the rules are relaxed so that a tile can move to any adjacent square, then h2(n) gives the shortest solution

  • Key point: the optimal solution cost of a relaxed problem is no greater than the optimal solution cost of the real problem

Choosing a strategy
Choosing a strategy

  • What sort of search problem is this?

  • How big is the search space?

  • What is known about the search space?

  • What methods are available for this kind of search?

  • How well do each of the methods work for each kind of problem?

Which method
Which method?

  • Exhaustive search for small finite spaces when it is essential that the optimal solution is found

  • A* for medium-sized spaces if heuristic knowledge is available

  • Random search for large evenly distributed homogeneous spaces

  • Hill climbing for discrete spaces where a sub-optimal solution is acceptable


  • What is search for?

  • How do we define/represent a problem?

  • How do we find a solution to a problem?

  • Are we doing this in the best way possible?

Pathfinding applet
Pathfinding applet

  • http://www.stefan-baur.de/cs.web.mashup.pathfinding.html