We explore a new general-purpose heuristic for finding high-quality solutions to hard discrete optimization problems. The method, called extremal optimization, is inspired by self-organized criticality, a concept introduced to describe emergent complexity in physical systems. Extremal optimization successively updates extremely undesirable variables of a single suboptimal solution, assigning them new, random values. Large fluctuations ensue, efficiently exploring many local optima. We use extremal optimization to elucidate the phase transition in the 3-coloring problem, and we provide independent confirmation of previously reported extrapolations for the ground-state energy of spin glasses in and .
- Received 23 October 2000
- Published in the issue dated 4 June 2001
© 2001 The American Physical Society