David Mcallester gave a talk about this paper (with Pedro Felzenszwalb). I’ll try to give a high level summary of why it’s interesting.

Dynamic programming is most familiar as instantiated by Viterbi decoding in a hidden markov model. It is a general paradigm for problem solving where subproblems are solved and used to solve larger problems. In the Viterbi decoding example, the subproblem is “What is the most probable path ending at each state at timestep *t*?”, and the larger problem is the same except at timestep *t+1*. There are a few optimizations you can do here:

**Dynamic Programming -> queued Dynamic Programming**. Keep track of the “cost so far” (or “most probable path”) and (carefully) only look at extensions to paths likely to yield the shortest path. “Carefully” here is defined by Dijkstra’s shortest path algorithm.**queued Dynamic programming -> A**Add a lower bound on the cost to complete a path (or an upper bound on the probability of a completion) for the priority queue of Dijkstra’s shortest path. This can yield computational speedups varying between negligible and outstanding.^{*}**A**The efficiency of A^{*}-> Hierarchical A^{*}^{*}search is dependent on the tightness of it’s lower bound, which brings up the question: “Where do you get the lower bound?” One appealing answer is from A^{*}applied to a simplified problem equivalent to the original problem, but with states aliased (many states in original problem = 1 state in new problem). This technique can be applied recursively until the problem is trivial.

Each of these steps has been noted previously (although perhaps not in the generality of this paper). What seems new and interesting is that the entire hierarchy of A^{*} searches can be done simultaneously on one priority queue.

The resulting algorithm can use low level information to optimize high level search as well as high level information to optimize low level search in a holistic process. It’s not clear yet how far this approach can be pushed, but this quality is quite appealing. Naturally, there are many plausible learning-related applications.