NASA's Hubble space telescope image of NGC 1672 which is a barred spiral galaxy located in the constellation Dorado

State Space Algorithm

Recently, I im­ple­mented the state space al­go­rithm in Racket. It's a sim­ple al­go­rithm that can find a goal state in n-di­men­sional Euclidean space. All one needs is a com­putable func­tion, a start­ing do­main, and a goal value.

How does it work?

For ex­am­ple, let's say we want to find an in­put for co­sine that gives us one of the ze­ros for the do­main 0 to 2π. Of course, there's no need to use the al­go­rithm in this case. We could look at a unit cir­cle and find that ap­ply­ing co­sine with the value 3π/2 gives us zero. Alternatively, the value of π/2 works just as well. Shortly, we'll dis­cover how the al­go­rithm will non­de­ter­min­is­ti­cally re­turn one of these two ze­ros–and in this case, we don't fa­vor ei­ther state. Any zero will do.

The main idea of the al­go­rithm is to tighten the do­main around a state that sat­is­fies the goal. This process is done it­er­a­tively. Every crank, the code will gen­er­ate K ran­dom guesses for a goal-sat­is­fy­ing state within the cur­rent do­main. The K pa­ra­me­ter has to be any pos­i­tive in­te­ger, but you get to choose it. I rec­om­mend try­ing dif­fer­ent val­ues for K to see how that af­fects the out­come.

The best state out of the set of K–i.e. the guess that gives an out­put clos­est to the goal–will be set aside. This guess is se­lected by find­ing the K range value that min­i­mizes the for­mula be­low. Note that y is the guess and yg is the goal value.

Obviously, in the be­gin­ning, the best state is likely far off from the goal state. The chance to gen­er­ate a sat­is­fi­able guess in­creases as the do­main shrinks around a goal-sat­is­fy­ing state, which hap­pens every it­er­a­tion.

To get this new do­main, there are a few steps to fol­low. First, let's find the av­er­age of the ab­solute val­ues of the dif­fer­ences of the K range val­ues and the goal value, which we'll call u.

Next, we'll need a so-called ep­silon value to scale our new do­main. To com­pute it, use the fol­low­ing for­mula:

The nu­mer­a­tor is the ab­solute value of the dif­fer­ence of the best K range value and the goal–which we com­puted ear­lier. The de­nom­i­na­tor is the u we just com­puted. So, you should only be plug­ging in num­bers here.

Finally, in­sert our pre­req­ui­site work into this for­mula to gen­er­ate the new do­main. Note that the x is the best state out of the set of K states. The b is the end value of the cur­rent do­main; the a is the be­ginnning of the do­main.

The al­go­rithm will thus gen­er­ate K range val­ues and use the best one to cre­ate the new do­main for the next it­er­a­tion. We'll con­tinue this process un­til one of the gen­er­ated guesses is within an er­ror bound that we choose.


Astute read­ers may have no­ticed that this is a vari­a­tion of a beam search. According to Wikipedia, beam search is a heuris­tic search al­go­rithm that ex­plores a graph by ex­pand­ing the most promis­ing node in a lim­ited set. In this case, our graph” is the do­main. Thus, we are work­ing over a con­tin­u­ous space rather than a dis­crete space; how­ever, since we can ef­fec­tively re­duce the search space, the al­go­rithm works. Well, works is fudgey term. I be­lieve that the al­go­rithm can some­times fail to find a so­lu­tion since it isn't math­e­mat­i­cally guar­enteed to con­verge the do­main around a goal-sas­ti­fy­ing state. Increasing the K pa­ra­me­ter should help–more guesses in­creases the chance of one them be­ing good.

Here is the code for my com­plete so­lu­tion. As a re­minder, the al­go­rithm is look­ing for a zero of the co­sine func­tion for the do­main 0 to 2π. To note, K is set to 3, and the er­ror bound is set to .01.

#lang racket

(require math/distributions)

(struct domain (x y))

(define (state-space fn goal [domain (domain 0 (* 2 pi))] [k 3] [error-bound .01])
(let loop ([x 0] [min (domain-x domain)] [max (domain-y domain)])
[(within-bound? (fn x) goal error-bound) x]
(define k-values (gen-k-values k min max))
(define best-value (select-best-value k-values fn goal))
(define-values (new-min new-max) (gen-new-bound k-values best-value goal min max))
(displayln (format "~a < ~a < ~a" new-min best-value new-max))
(loop best-value new-min new-max)])))

(define (gen-k-values k min max)
(define dist (uniform-dist min max))
(for/list ([ii k])
(sample dist)))

(define (select-best-value k-values fn goal)
(argmin (lambda (x) (abs (- goal (fn x)))) k-values))

(define (gen-new-bound k-values best-value goal min max)
(define errors (map (lambda (x) (abs (- goal x))) k-values))
(define avg-error (average errors))
(define e (/ (abs (- best-value goal)) avg-error))
(define term (* e (/ (- max min) 2)))
(values (- best-value term) (+ best-value term)))

(define (within-bound? y goal error-bound)
(define diff (- goal y))
(<= (abs diff) error-bound))

(define (average xs (return /))
(if (empty? xs)
(return 0 0)
(average (cdr xs)
(lambda (sum len)
(return (+ sum (car xs))
(+ len 1))))))

(module+ main
(state-space cos 0))

For a sin­gle run, I got a state value of about 1.566, which is close to π/2. Since π/2 is one of the valid ze­ros, the al­go­rithm's out­come is what we ex­pected. You should keep in mind that it's pos­si­ble to get a state value near 3π/2, the other zero. Consider run­ning the al­go­rithm mul­ti­ple times to get a feel for how things work.