Random Utility Theory for Social Choice

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 25 (NIPS 2012)

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Hossein Azari, David Parks, Lirong Xia


Random utility theory models an agents preferences on alternatives by drawing a real-valued score on each alternative (typically independently) from a parameterized distribution, and then ranking the alternatives according to scores. A special case that has received signicant attention is the Plackett-Luce model, for which fast inference methods for maximum likelihood estimators are available. This paper develops conditions on general random utility models that enable fast inference within a Bayesian framework through MC-EM, providing concave loglikelihood functions and bounded sets of global maxima solutions. Results on both real-world and simulated data provide support for the scalability of the approach and capability for model selection among general random utility models including Plackett-Luce.