Learning to rank in supervised and unsupervised settings using convexity and monotonicity



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation addresses the task of learning to rank, both in the supervised and unsupervised settings, by exploiting the interplay of convex functions, monotonic mappings and their fixed points. In the supervised setting of learning to rank, one wishes to learn from examples of correctly ordered items whereas in the unsupervised setting, one tries to maximize some quantitatively defined characteristic of a "good" ranking. A ranking method selects one permutation from among the combinatorially many permutations defined on the items to rank. Accomplishing this optimally in the supervised setting, with minimal loss in generality, if any, is challenging. In this dissertation this problem is addressed by optimizing, globally and efficiently, a statistically consistent loss functional over the class of compositions of a linear function by an arbitrary, strictly monotonic, separable mapping with large margins. This capability also enables learning the parameters of a generalized linear model with an unknown link function. The method can handle infinite dimensional feature spaces if the corresponding kernel function is known. In the unsupervised setting, a popular ranking approach is is link analysis over a graph of recommendations, as exemplified by pagerank. This dissertation shows that pagerank may be viewed as an instance of an unsupervised consensus optimization problem. The dissertation then solves a more general problem of unsupervised consensus over noisy, directed recommendation graphs that have uncertainty over the set of "out" edges that emanate from a vertex. The proposed consensus rank is essentially the pagerank over the expected edge-set, where the expectation is computed over the distribution that achieves the most agreeable consensus. This consensus is measured geometrically by a suitable Bregman divergence between the consensus rank and the ranks induced by item specific distributions Real world deployed ranking methods need to be resistant to spam, a particularly sophisticated type of which is link-spam. A popular class of countermeasures "de-spam" the corrupted webgraph by removing abusive pages identified by supervised learning. Since exhaustive detection and neutralization is infeasible, there is a need for ranking functions that can, on one hand, attenuate the effects of link-spam without supervision and on the other hand, counter spam more aggressively when supervision is available. A family of non-linear, iteratively defined monotonic functions is proposed that propagates "rank" and "trust" scores through the webgraph. It relies on non-linearity, monotonicity and Schurconvexity to provide the resistance against spam.