NeuralNDCG: Direct Optimisation of a Ranking Metric via Differentiable Relaxation of Sorting

02/15/2021 ∙ by Przemysław Pobrotyn, et al. ∙ 0

Learning to Rank (LTR) algorithms are usually evaluated using Information Retrieval metrics like Normalised Discounted Cumulative Gain (NDCG) or Mean Average Precision. As these metrics rely on sorting predicted items' scores (and thus, on items' ranks), their derivatives are either undefined or zero everywhere. This makes them unsuitable for gradient-based optimisation, which is the usual method of learning appropriate scoring functions. Commonly used LTR loss functions are only loosely related to the evaluation metrics, causing a mismatch between the optimisation objective and the evaluation criterion. In this paper, we address this mismatch by proposing NeuralNDCG, a novel differentiable approximation to NDCG. Since NDCG relies on the non-differentiable sorting operator, we obtain NeuralNDCG by relaxing that operator using NeuralSort, a differentiable approximation of sorting. As a result, we obtain a new ranking loss function which is an arbitrarily accurate approximation to the evaluation metric, thus closing the gap between the training and the evaluation of LTR models. We introduce two variants of the proposed loss function. Finally, the empirical evaluation shows that our proposed method outperforms previous work aimed at direct optimisation of NDCG and is competitive with the state-of-the-art methods.

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