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Neural Simulated Annealing

Alvaro Correia · Daniel Worrall · Roberto Bondesan

Auditorium 1 Foyer 107


Simulated annealing (SA) is a stochastic global optimisation metaheuristic applicable to a wide range of discrete and continuous variable problems. Despite its simplicity, SA hinges on carefully handpicked components, viz. proposal distribution and annealing schedule, that often have to be fine tuned to individual problem instances. In this work, we seek to make SA more effective and easier to use by framing its proposal distribution as a reinforcement learning policy that can be optimised for higher solution quality given a computational budget. The result is Neural SA, a competitive and general machine learning method for combinatorial optimisation that is efficient, and easy to design and train. We show Neural SA with such a learnt proposal distribution, parametrised by small equivariant neural networks, outperforms SA baselines on several problems: Rosenbrock's function and the Knapsack, Bin Packing and Travelling Salesperson problems. We also show Neural SA scales well to large problems (generalising to much larger instances than those seen during training) while getting comparable performance to popular off-the-shelf solvers and machine learning methods in terms of solution quality and wall-clock time.

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