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CS 440/ECE 448
Margaret Fleck

Uninformed Search 3

Returning paths

When a search algorithm finds the goal, it must be able to return best path to the goal. So, during search, each seen state must remember the best path back to the start state. To do this efficiently, each state stores a pointer to the previous state in the best path. When the goal is found, we retrieve the best path by chaining backwards until we reach the start state.

Length-bounded DFS

DFS performs very poorly when applied directly to most search problems. However, it becomes the method of choice when we have a tight bound on the length of the solution path. This happens in two types of situations, which we'll see later in the course: In this situation, DFS can be implemented so as to use very little memory. In AI problems, the set of seen states can often become very large, so that programs can run out of memory or put enough pressure on the system memory management that programs slow down. Instead of storing and checking this large set, length-bounded DFS checks only that the current path contains no duplicate states. There is a tradeoff here. Checking only the current path will cause the algorithm to re-do some of its search work, because it can't remember what states has already searched. In practice, the wisdom of this approach depends on the application. When there are tight bounds on path length, it's safe to implement DFS using recursion rather than a stack.

Iterative deepening

We can dramatically improve the low-memory version of DFS by running it with a progressively increasing bound on the maximum path length. This is a bit like having a dog running around you on a leash, and gradually letting the leash out. Specifically:

For k = 1 to infinity
Run DFS but stop whenever a path contains at least k states.
Halt when we find a goal state

This is called "iterative deepening." Its properties

Each iteration repeats the work of the previous one. So iterative deepening is most useful when the new search area at distance k is large compared to the area search in previous iterations, so that the search at distance k is dominated by the paths of length k.

These conditions don't hold for 2D mazes. The search area at radius k is proportional to k, whereas the area inside that radius is proportional to \(k^2\).

However, suppose that the search space looks like a 4-ary tree. We know from discrete math that there are \(4^k\) nodes at level k. Using a geometric series, we find that there are \(1/3\cdot (4^k -1)\) nodes in levels 1 through k-1. So the nodes in the lowest level dominate the search. This type of situation holds (approximately) for big games such as chess.

Backwards and Bidirectional Search

Backwards and bidirectional search are basically what they sound like. Backwards search is like forwards search except that you start from the goal. In bidirectional search, you run two parallel searches, starting from start and goal states, in hopes that they will connect at a shared state. These approaches are useful only in very specific situations.

Backwards search makes sense when you have relatively few goal states, known at the start. This often fails, e.g. chess has a huge number of winning board configurations. Also, actions must be easy to run backwards (often true).

Example: James Bond is driving his Lexus in central Boston and wants to get to Dr. Evil's lair in Hawley, MA (population 337). There's a vast number of ways to get out of Boston but only one road of significant size going through Hawley. In that situation, working backwards from the goal might be much better than working forwards from the starting state.