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Publications & Technical Reports

Generalized Best-First Search Strategies and the Optimality of A
Rina Dechter and Judea Pearl

This paper reports several properties of heuristic best-first search strategies whose scoring functionsfdepend on all the information available from each candidate path, not merely on the current cost g and the estimated completion cost h. It is shown that several known properties of A* retain their form (with the minmax offplaying the role of the optimal cost), which helps establish general tests of admissibility and general conditions for node expansion for these strategies. On the basis of this framework the computational optimality of A*, in the sense of never expanding a node that can be skipped by some other algorithm having access to the same heuristic information that A* uses, is examined. A hierarchy of four optimality types is defined and three classes of algorithms and four domains of problem instances are considered. Computational performances relative to these algorithms and domains are appraised. For each class-domain combination, we then identify the strongest type of optimality that exists and the algorithm for achieving it. The main results of this paper relate to the class of algorithms that, like A*, return optimal solutions (i.e., admissible) when all cost estimates are optimistic (i.e., h<=h*). On this class, A* is shown to be not optimal and it is also shown that no optimal algorithm exists, but if the performance tests are confirmed to casesin which the estimates are also consistent, then A* is indeed optimal. Additionally, A* is also shown to be optimal over a subset of the latter class containing all best-first algorithms that are guided by path-dependent evaluation functions.