Active Ranking using Pairwise Comparisons

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 24 (NIPS 2011)

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Kevin G. Jamieson, Robert Nowak


This paper examines the problem of ranking a collection of objects using pairwise comparisons (rankings of two objects). In general, the ranking of $n$ objects can be identified by standard sorting methods using $n\log_2 n$ pairwise comparisons. We are interested in natural situations in which relationships among the objects may allow for ranking using far fewer pairwise comparisons. {Specifically, we assume that the objects can be embedded into a $d$-dimensional Euclidean space and that the rankings reflect their relative distances from a common reference point in $\R^d$. We show that under this assumption the number of possible rankings grows like $n^{2d}$ and demonstrate an algorithm that can identify a randomly selected ranking using just slightly more than $d\log n$ adaptively selected pairwise comparisons, on average.} If instead the comparisons are chosen at random, then almost all pairwise comparisons must be made in order to identify any ranking. In addition, we propose a robust, error-tolerant algorithm that only requires that the pairwise comparisons are probably correct. Experimental studies with synthetic and real datasets support the conclusions of our theoretical analysis.