Perfect Sampling from Pairwise Comparisons

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Dimitris Fotakis, Alkis Kalavasis, Christos Tzamos


In this work, we study how to efficiently obtain perfect samples from a discrete distribution $\mathcal{D}$ given access only to pairwise comparisons of elements of its support. Specifically, we assume access to samples $(x, S)$, where $S$ is drawn from a distribution over sets $\mathcal{Q}$ (indicating the elements being compared), and $x$ is drawn from the conditional distribution $\mathcal{D}_S$ (indicating the winner of the comparison) and aim to output a clean sample $y$ distributed according to $\mathcal{D}$. We mainly focus on the case of pairwise comparisons where all sets $S$ have size 2. We design a Markov chain whose stationary distribution coincides with $\mathcal{D}$ and give an algorithm to obtain exact samples using the technique of Coupling from the Past. However, the sample complexity of this algorithm depends on the structure of the distribution $\mathcal{D}$ and can be even exponential in the support of $\mathcal{D}$ in many natural scenarios. Our main contribution is to provide an efficient exact sampling algorithm whose complexity does not depend on the structure of $\mathcal{D}$. To this end, we give a parametric Markov chain that mixes significantly faster given a good approximation to the stationary distribution. We can obtain such an approximation using an efficient learning from pairwise comparisons algorithm (Shah et al., JMLR 17, 2016). Our technique for speeding up sampling from a Markov chain whose stationary distribution is approximately known is simple, general and possibly of independent interest.