On ranking via sorting by estimated expected utility

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2020)

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Clement Calauzenes, Nicolas Usunier


<p>Ranking and selection tasks appear in different contexts with specific desiderata, such as the maximizaton of average relevance on the top of the list, the requirement of diverse rankings, or, relatedly, the focus on providing at least one relevant items to as many users as possible. This paper addresses the question of which of these tasks are asymptotically solved by sorting by decreasing order of expected utility, for some suitable notion of utility, or, equivalently, \emph{when is square loss regression consistent for ranking \emph{via} score-and-sort?}. We provide an answer to this question in the form of a structural characterization of ranking losses for which a suitable regression is consistent. This result has two fundamental corollaries. First, whenever there exists a consistent approach based on convex risk minimization, there also is a consistent approach based on regression. Second, when regression is not consistent, there are data distributions for which consistent surrogate approaches necessarily have non-trivial local minima, and optimal scoring function are necessarily discontinuous, even when the underlying data distribution is regular. In addition to providing a better understanding of surrogate approaches for ranking, these results illustrate the intrinsic difficulty of solving general ranking problems with the score-and-sort approach.</p>