On submodular search and machine scheduling

Robbert Fokkink, Thomas Lidbetter, László A. Végh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Suppose that some objects are hidden in a finite set S of hiding places that must be examined one by one. The cost of searching subsets of S is given by a submodular function, and the probability that all objects are contained in a subset is given by a supermodular function. We seek an ordering of S that finds all the objects with minimal expected cost. This problem is NP-hard, and we give an efficient combinatorial 2-approximation algorithm, generalizing analogous results in scheduling theory. We also give a new scheduling application where a set of jobs must be ordered subject to precedence constraints to minimize the weighted sum of some concave function of the completion times of subsets of jobs. We go on to give better approximations for submodular functions with low total curvature, and we give a full solution when the problem is what we call series-parallel decomposable. Next, we consider a zero-sum game between a cost-maximizing hider and a cost-minimizing searcher. We prove that the equilibrium mixed strategies for the hider are in the base polyhedron of the cost function, suitably scaled, and we solve the game in the series-parallel decomposable case, giving approximately optimal strategies in other cases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1431-1449
Number of pages19
JournalMathematics of Operations Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Game theory
  • Scheduling
  • Search games
  • Submodular functions

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