Optimal Sample Complexity of M-wise Data for Top-K Ranking

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 30 (NIPS 2017)

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Minje Jang, Sunghyun Kim, Changho Suh, Sewoong Oh


We explore the top-K rank aggregation problem in which one aims to recover a consistent ordering that focuses on top-K ranked items based on partially revealed preference information. We examine an M-wise comparison model that builds on the Plackett-Luce (PL) model where for each sample, M items are ranked according to their perceived utilities modeled as noisy observations of their underlying true utilities. As our result, we characterize the minimax optimality on the sample size for top-K ranking. The optimal sample size turns out to be inversely proportional to M. We devise an algorithm that effectively converts M-wise samples into pairwise ones and employs a spectral method using the refined data. In demonstrating its optimality, we develop a novel technique for deriving tight $\ell_\infty$ estimation error bounds, which is key to accurately analyzing the performance of top-K ranking algorithms, but has been challenging. Recent work relied on an additional maximum-likelihood estimation (MLE) stage merged with a spectral method to attain good estimates in $\ell_\infty$ error to achieve the limit for the pairwise model. In contrast, although it is valid in slightly restricted regimes, our result demonstrates a spectral method alone to be sufficient for the general M-wise model. We run numerical experiments using synthetic data and confirm that the optimal sample size decreases at the rate of 1/M. Moreover, running our algorithm on real-world data, we find that its applicability extends to settings that may not fit the PL model.