Learning from ranking data : theory and methods

Abstract : Ranking data, i.e., ordered list of items, naturally appears in a wide variety of situations, especially when the data comes from human activities (ballots in political elections, survey answers, competition results) or in modern applications of data processing (search engines, recommendation systems). The design of machine-learning algorithms, tailored for these data, is thus crucial. However, due to the absence of any vectorial structure of the space of rankings, and its explosive cardinality when the number of items increases, most of the classical methods from statistics and multivariate analysis cannot be applied in a direct manner. Hence, a vast majority of the literature rely on parametric models. In this thesis, we propose a non-parametric theory and methods for ranking data. Our analysis heavily relies on two main tricks. The first one is the extensive use of the Kendall’s tau distance, which decomposes rankings into pairwise comparisons. This enables us to analyze distributions over rankings through their pairwise marginals and through a specific assumption called transitivity, which prevents cycles in the preferences from happening. The second one is the extensive use of embeddings tailored to ranking data, mapping rankings to a vector space. Three different problems, unsupervised and supervised, have been addressed in this context: ranking aggregation, dimensionality reduction and predicting rankings with features.The first part of this thesis focuses on the ranking aggregation problem, where the goal is to summarize a dataset of rankings by a consensus ranking. Among the many ways to state this problem stands out the Kemeny aggregation method, whose solutions have been shown to satisfy many desirable properties, but can be NP-hard to compute. In this work, we have investigated the hardness of this problem in two ways. Firstly, we proposed a method to upper bound the Kendall’s tau distance between any consensus candidate (typically the output of a tractable procedure) and a Kemeny consensus, on any dataset. Then, we have casted the ranking aggregation problem in a rigorous statistical framework, reformulating it in terms of ranking distributions, and assessed the generalization ability of empirical Kemeny consensus.The second part of this thesis is dedicated to machine learning problems which are shown to be closely related to ranking aggregation. The first one is dimensionality reduction for ranking data, for which we propose a mass-transportation approach to approximate any distribution on rankings by a distribution exhibiting a specific type of sparsity. The second one is the problem of predicting rankings with features, for which we investigated several methods. Our first proposal is to adapt piecewise constant methods to this problem, partitioning the feature space into regions and locally assigning as final label (a consensus ranking) to each region. Our second proposal is a structured prediction approach, relying on embedding maps for ranking data enjoying theoretical and computational advantages.
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Anna Korba. Learning from ranking data : theory and methods. Statistics [math.ST]. Université Paris-Saclay, 2018. English. ⟨NNT : 2018SACLT009⟩. ⟨tel-01983274⟩

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