BoltzRank: Learning to Maximize Expected Ranking Gain

author: Maksims Volkovs, Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto
published: Aug. 26, 2009,   recorded: June 2009,   views: 4520


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Ranking a set of retrieved documents according to their relevance to a query is a popular problem in information retrieval. Methods that learn ranking functions are difficult to optimize, as ranking performance is typically judged by metrics that are not smooth. In this paper we propose a new listwise approach to learning to rank. Our method creates a conditional probability distribution over rankings assigned to documents for a given query, which allows for gradient ascent optimization of the expected value of some performance measure. The rank probabilities take the form of a Boltzmann distribution, based on an energy function that depends on a scoring function composed of individual and pairwise potentials. Including pairwise potentials is a novel contribution, allowing the model to encode regularities in the relative scores of documents; existing models assign scores at test time based only on individual documents, with no pairwise constraints between documents. Experimental results on the LETOR3.0 data sets show that our method out-performs existing learning approaches to ranking.

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