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The paper develops efficient and general stochastic approximation (SA) methods for improving the operation of parametrized systems of either the continuous- or discrete-event dynamical systems types and which are of interest over a long time period. For example, one might wish to optimize or improve the stationary (or average cost per unit time) performance by adjusting the systems parameters. The number of applications and the associated literature are increasing at a rapid rate. This is partly due to the increasing activity in computing pathwise derivatives and adapting them to the average-cost problem. Although the original motivation and the examples come from an interest in the infinite-horizon problem, the techniques and results are of general applicability in SA. We present an updating and review of powerful ordinary differential equation-type methods, in a fairly general context, and based on weak convergence ideas. The results and proof techniques are applicable to a wide variety of applications. Exploiting the full potential of these ideas can greatly simplify and extend much current work. Their breadth as well as the relative ease of using the basic ideas are illustrated in detail via typical examples drawn from discrete-event dynamical systems, piecewise deterministic dynamical systems, and a stochastic differential equations model. In these particular illustrations, we use either infinitesimal perturbation analysis-type estimators, mean square derivative-type estimators, or finite-difference type estimators. Markov and non-Markov models are discussed. The algorithms for distributed/asynchronous updating as well as the fully synchronous schemes are developed.


This work was originally published in SIAM Journal on Control and Optimization. Copyright held by the publisher.


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