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Simulated annealing (SA) is a probabilistic technique for approximating the global optimum of a given function. Specifically, it is a metaheuristic to approximate global optimization in a large search space for an optimization problem. It is often used when the search space is discrete (e.g., the traveling salesman problem). For problems where finding an approximate global optimum is more important than finding a precise local optimum in a fixed amount of time, simulated annealing may be preferable to alternatives such as gradient descent.Example illustrating the effect of cooling schedule on the performance of simulated annealing. The problem is to rearrange the pixels of an image so as to minimize a certain potential energy function, which causes similar colours to attract at short range and repel at a slightly larger distance. The elementary moves swap two adjacent pixels. These images were obtained with a fast cooling schedule (left) and a slow cooling schedule (right), producing results similar to amorphous and crystalline solids, respectively. Simulated annealing (SA) is a probabilistic technique for approximating the global optimum of a given function. Specifically, it is a metaheuristic to approximate global optimization in a large search space for an optimization problem. It is often used when the search space is discrete (e.g., the traveling salesman problem). For problems where finding an approximate global optimum is more important than finding a precise local optimum in a fixed amount of time, simulated annealing may be preferable to alternatives such as gradient descent. The name and inspiration come from annealing in metallurgy, a technique involving heating and controlled cooling of a material to increase the size of its crystals and reduce their defects. Both are attributes of the material that depend on its thermodynamic free energy. Heating and cooling the material affects both the temperature and the thermodynamic free energy.The simulation of annealing can be used to find an approximation of a global minimum for a function with a large number of variables.

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