A specialised constraint approach for stable matching problems.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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Constraint programming is a generalised framework designed to solve combinatorial problems. This framework is made up of a set of predefined independent components and generalised algorithms. This is a very versatile structure which allows for a variety of rich combinatorial problems to be represented and solved relatively easily.
Stable matching problems consist of a set of participants wishing to be matched into pairs or groups in a stable manner. A matching is said to be stable if there is no pair or group of participants that would rather make a private arrangement to improve their situation and thus undermine the matching. There are many important "real life" applications of stable matching problems across the world. Some of which includes the Hospitals/Residents problem in which a set of graduating medical students, also known as residents, need to be assigned to hospital posts. Some authorities assign children to schools as a stable matching problem. Many other such problems are also tackled as stable matching problems. A number of classical stable matching problems have efficient specialised algorithmic solutions.
Constraint programming solutions to stable matching problems have been investigated in the past. These solutions have been able to match the theoretically optimal time complexities of the algorithmic solutions. However, empirical evidence has shown that in reality these constraint solutions run significantly slower than the specialised algorithmic solutions. Furthermore, their memory requirements prohibit them from solving problems which the specialised algorithmic solutions can solve in a fraction of a second.
My contribution investigates the possibility of modelling stable matching problems as specialised constraints. The motivation behind this approach was to find solutions to these problems which maintain the versatility of the constraint solutions, whilst significantly reducing the performance gap between constraint and specialised algorithmic solutions.
To this end specialised constraint solutions have been developed for the stable marriage problem and the Hospitals/Residents problem. Empirical evidence has been presented which shows that these solutions can solve significantly larger problems than previously published constraint solutions. For these larger problem instances it was seen that the specialised constraint solutions came within a factor of four of the time required by algorithmic solutions. It has also been shown that, through further specialisation, these constraint solutions can be made to run significantly faster. However, these improvements came at the cost of versatility. As a demonstration of the versatility of these solutions it is shown that, by adding simple side constraints, richer problems can be easily modelled. These richer problems add additional criteria and/or an optimisation requirement to the original stable matching problems. Many of these problems have been proven to be NP-Hard and some have no known algorithmic solutions. Included with these models are results from empirical studies which show that these are indeed feasible solutions to the richer problems. Results from the studies also provide some insight into the structure of these problems, some of which have had little or no previous study.
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