Computationally Efficient Optimization of Plackett-Luce Ranking Models for Relevance and Fairness

Harrie Oosterhuis
Published in Proceedings of the 44th International ACM SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval (SIGIR ’21), 2021. [pdf, code, video, slides]

Award Icon This paper won the Best Paper Award.


Recent work has proposed stochastic Plackett-Luce (PL) ranking models as a robust choice for optimizing relevance and fairness metrics. Unlike their deterministic counterparts that require heuristic optimization algorithms, PL models are fully differentiable. Theoretically, they can be used to optimize ranking metrics via stochastic gradient descent. However, in practice, the computation of the gradient is infeasible because it requires one to iterate over all possible permutations of items. Consequently, actual applications rely on approximating the gradient via sampling techniques.

In this paper, we introduce a novel algorithm: PL-Rank, that estimates the gradient of a PL ranking model w.r.t. both relevance and fairness metrics. Unlike existing approaches that are based on policy gradients, PL-Rank makes use of the specific structure of PL models and ranking metrics. Our experimental analysis shows that PL-Rank has a greater sample-efficiency and is computationally less costly than existing policy gradients, resulting in faster convergence at higher performance. PL-Rank further enables the industry to apply PL models for more relevant and fairer real-world ranking systems.

Download the paper here.

Download the presentation slides here.

Code is available here.

Recommended citation:

H. Oosterhuis. "Computationally Efficient Optimization of Plackett-Luce Ranking Models for Relevance and Fairness." In Proceedings of the 44th International ACM SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval. ACM, 2021.