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Unit information: Stochastic Optimisation in 2012/13

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Unit name Stochastic Optimisation
Unit code MATHM6005
Credit points 10
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2C (weeks 13 - 18)
Unit director Dr. Tadic
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Mathematics
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

Stochastic optimisation covers a broad framework of problems at the interface of applied probability and optimisation. The main focus of this unit is on Markov decision processes and game theory. Markov decision processes describe a class of single decision-maker optimisation problems that arise when applied probability models (eg Markov chains) are extended to allow for action-dependent transition distributions and associated rewards. Game theory problems are more complex in that they involve two or more decision makers (players), so the optimal action for each player will depend on the actions of other players. Here, we focus on Nash equilibria - strategies that are conditionally optimal in the sense that a player can not do do better by changing their own strategy while other players stay with their current strategy.


The underlying aim is to use a combination of models, techniques and theory from stochastic control and equilibrium selection to determine behaviour that is optimal with regard to some given reward structure.


  1. Markov decision problems (Markov controlled processes, reward/cost structure, optimal strategies).
  2. Methods for Markov decision problems (linear programming, policy iteration, value iteration).
  3. Static Games (Nash equilibrium, dominance, classification).
  4. Population Games (Evolutionary game theory, evolutionary stable strategies, Nash equilibrium).

Relation to Other Units

This unit is a first course on stochastic optimisation.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this unit should be able to:

  • recognise and construct appropriate formal Markov decision process (MDP) models and game theoretic models from informal problem descriptions;
  • construct appropriate optimality equations for optimisation problems;
  • understand and use appropriate computational techniques (including dynamic programming and policy and value iteration) to solve finite horizon, and infinite horizon discounted and average cost MDPs;
  • understand the concept of a Nash equilibrium and an evolutionarily stable stategy;
  • compute equilibrium policies for standard and simple non-standard games.

Transferable Skills:

In addition to the general skills associated with other mathematical units, students will also have the opportunity to gain practice in the following: report writing, oral presentations, use of information resources, use of initiative in learning material in other than that provided by the lectures themselves, time management, general IT skills and word-processing.

Teaching Information

Lectures, supported by problem sheets, problems classes and solution sheets.

Assessment Information

The assessment mark for Stochastic Optimisation is calculated from a 1½-hour written examination in APRIL consisting of THREE questions. A candidate's best TWO answers will be used for assessment. Calculators of an approved type (non-programmable, no text facility) are allowed.

Reading and References

  1. M. L. Puterman. Markov Decision Processes: Discrete Stochastic Dynamic Programming, Wiley, 2005.
  2. D. P. Bertsekas, Dynamic Programming and Optimal Control, vol. 1 and 2, 2nd edition, Athena Scientific, 2005.
  3. P. Whittle, Optimal Control: Basics and Beyond, Wiley, 1996.
  4. R. Gibbons, A Primer in Game Theory, Prentice-Hall, 1992.
  5. A. I. Houston and J. M. McNamara, Models of Adaptive Behaviour, Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  6. J. Maynard Smith, Evolution and the Theory of Games, Cambridge University Press, 1982.