A* Search Without Expansions: Learning Heuristic Functions with Deep Q-Networks

Forest Agostinelli, Alexander Shmakov, Stephen McAleer, Roy Fox, and Pierre Baldi

arXiv:2102.04518, 2021

A* search is an informed search algorithm that uses a heuristic function to guide the order in which nodes are expanded. Since the computation required to expand a node and compute the heuristic values for all of its generated children grows linearly with the size of the action space, A* search can become impractical for problems with large action spaces. This computational burden becomes even more apparent when heuristic functions are learned by general, but computationally expensive, deep neural networks. To address this problem, we introduce DeepCubeAQ, a deep reinforcement learning and search algorithm that builds on the DeepCubeA algorithm and deep Q-networks. DeepCubeAQ learns a heuristic function that, with a single forward pass through a deep neural network, computes the sum of the transition cost and the heuristic value of all of the children of a node without explicitly generating any of the children, eliminating the need for node expansions. DeepCubeAQ then uses a novel variant of A* search, called AQ* search, that uses the deep Q-network to guide search. We use DeepCubeAQ to solve the Rubik’s cube when formulated with a large action space that includes 1872 meta-actions and show that this 157-fold increase in the size of the action space incurs less than a 4-fold increase in computation time when performing AQ* search and that AQ* search is orders of magnitude faster than A* search.