Ranking to Learn and Learning to Rank: On the Role of Ranking in Pattern Recognition Applications

Giorgio Roffo

The last decade has seen a revolution in the theory and application of machine learning and pattern recognition. Through these advancements, variable ranking has emerged as an active and growing research area and it is now beginning to be applied to many new problems. The rationale behind this fact is that many pattern recognition problems are by nature ranking problems. The main objective of a ranking algorithm is to sort objects according to some criteria, so that, the most relevant items will appear early in the produced result list. Ranking methods can be analyzed from two different methodological perspectives: ranking to learn and learning to rank. The former aims at studying methods and techniques to sort objects for improving the accuracy of a machine learning model. Enhancing a model performance can be challenging at times. For example, in pattern classification tasks, different data representations can complicate and hide the different explanatory factors of variation behind the data. In particular, hand-crafted features contain many cues that are either redundant or irrelevant, which turn out to reduce the overall accuracy of the classifier. In such a case feature selection is used, that, by producing ranked lists of features, helps to filter out the unwanted information. Moreover, in real-time systems (e.g., visual trackers) ranking approaches are used as optimization procedures which improve the robustness of the system that deals with the high variability of the image streams that change over time. The other way around, learning to rank is necessary in the construction of ranking models for information retrieval, biometric authentication, re-identification, and recommender systems. In this context, the ranking model's purpose is to sort objects according to their degrees of relevance, importance, or preference as defined in the specific application.

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