We review constraint-based approaches to handle preferences. We start by defining the main notions of constraint programming, then give various concepts of soft constraints and show how they can be used to model quantitative preferences. We then consider how soft constraints can be adapted to handle other forms of preferences, such as bipolar, qualitative, and temporal preferences. Finally, we describe how AI techniques such as abstraction, explanation generation, machine learning, and preference elicitation, can be useful in modelling and solving soft constraints.
You wait forever for one to come along, and then two come along at once. In this case, there has been a large gap in the market for a theoretical introduction to constraint programming ever since Edward Tsang's Foundations of Constraint Satisfaction (1993) went out of print. Therefore, we are very pleased to see two books written by two of the leading researchers in this field come along to fill the gap. Constraint programming is a very active research area within AI. It is a highly successful technology for solving a wide range of combinatorial problems, including scheduling, rostering, assignment, routing, and design. A number of companies, like ILOG, Dash Optimization, and Parc Technologies, market model building and constraint programming toolkits, which are used by companies as diverse as Amazon.com, Constraint programming is a declarative style of modeling combinatorial problems in which the user identifies the decision variables, their possible domain of values, and specifies constraints over the allowed values (for example, no two of these variables can take the same value). Sophisticated but general purpose AI search techniques like constraint propagation (to prune irrelevant parts of the search tree) and dependency directed backtracking can then be used to find solutions. Given the many advances made in constraint programming over the last decade, a new text would have been needed even if Edward Tsang's book had remained in print. These two new texts are written by two of the leading researchers in this field. Principles of Constraint Programming by Krzysztof Apt contains chapters that cover topics like local consistency, constraint propagation, linear equations, interval reasoning, and search. Constraint Processing by Rina Dechter covers similar ground but also has chapters that cover topics like local search, tree decomposition methods, optimization, and probabilistic networks more extensively. Dechter's book also contains a chapter by David Cohen and Peter Jeavons on tractability and one by Francesca Rossi on constraint logic programming. There is much in common between the two books. This is perhaps not so surprising since Krzysztof Apt thanks Rina Dechter for much useful discussion that helped him enter the field and start doing research in the area.
Review of Apt, Krzysztof. "Principles of Constraint Programming. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 0- 521-825830. 420 pages, $50.00. Publication Date: August 2003. Review also of Dechter, Rina. "Constraint Processing. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers. ISBN 1-55860-890-7. 481 pages, $65.95. Publication Date: May 2003.
Stochastic constraint programs contain both decision variables (which we can set) and stochastic variables (which follow some probability distribution), and combine together the best features of traditional constraint satisfaction, stochastic integer programming, and stochastic satisfiability. We give a semantics for stochastic constraint programs, and propose a number of complete algorithms and approximation procedures. Using these algorithms, we observe phase transition behavior in stochastic constraint programs.
We study decompositions of the global NVALUE constraint. Our main contribution is theoretical: we show that there are propagators for global constraints like NVALUE which decomposition can simulate with the same time complexity but with a much greater space complexity. This suggests that the benefit of a global propagator may often not be in saving time but in saving space. Our other theoretical contribution is to show for the first time that range consistency can be enforced on NVALUE with the same worst-case time complexity as bound consistency. Finally, the decompositions we study are readily encoded as linear inequalities. We are therefore able to use them in integer linear programs.