Curriculum learning for multilevel budgeted combinatorial problems

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Adel Nabli, Margarida Carvalho


Learning heuristics for combinatorial optimization problems through graph neural networks have recently shown promising results on some classic NP-hard problems. These are single-level optimization problems with only one player. Multilevel combinatorial optimization problems are their generalization, encompassing situations with multiple players taking decisions sequentially. By framing them in a multi-agent reinforcement learning setting, we devise a value-based method to learn to solve multilevel budgeted combinatorial problems involving two players in a zero-sum game over a graph. Our framework is based on a simple curriculum: if an agent knows how to estimate the value of instances with budgets up to $B$, then solving instances with budget $B+1$ can be done in polynomial time regardless of the direction of the optimization by checking the value of every possible afterstate. Thus, in a bottom-up approach, we generate datasets of heuristically solved instances with increasingly larger budgets to train our agent. We report results close to optimality on graphs up to $100$ nodes and a $185 \times$ speedup on average compared to the quickest exact solver known for the Multilevel Critical Node problem, a max-min-max trilevel problem that has been shown to be at least $\Sigma_2^p$-hard.