# OPTIMAL SELECTION BASED ON RELATIVE RANK* (the "Secretary Problem")

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1 OPTIMAL SELECTION BASED ON RELATIVE RANK* (the "Secretary Problem") BY Y. S. CHOW, S. MORIGUTI, H. ROBBINS AND S. M. SAMUELS ABSTRACT n rankable persons appear sequentially in random order. At the ith stage we observe the relative ranks of the first i persons to appear, and must either select the itb person, in which case the process stops, or pass on to the next stage. For that stopping rule which minimizes the expectation of the absolute rank of the person selected, it is shown that as n --~ oo this tends to the value j=x --7 ~ Introduction. n girls apply for a certain position. If we could observe them all we could rank them absolutely with no ties, from best (rank 1) to worst (rank n). However, the girls present themselves one by one, in random order, and Iwhen the ith girl appears we can observe only her rank relative to her i- 1 predecessors, that is, 1 + the number of her predecessors who are better than she. We may either select the ith girl to appear, in which case the process ends, or reject her and go on to the (i + 1)th girl; in the latter case the ith girl cannot be recalled. We must select one of the n girls. Let X denote the absolute rank of the girl selected. The values of X are 1,..., n, with probabilities determined by our selection strategy. What selection strategy (i.e. stopping rule) will minimize the expectation EX = expected absolute rank of the girl selected? To formulate the problem mathematically, let xl,...,x, denote a random permutation of the integers 1,..., n, all n! permutations being equally likely. The integer 1 corresponds to the best girl,..., n to the worst. For any i = 1,-.., n let y~=l + number of terms xx, "',x~-i which are < x~ (yi=relative rank of ith girl to appear). It is easy to see that the random variables Yx, "", Y, are independent, with the distribution 1 (1) P(Yf =J) = 7 (j,= 1,...,i), and that (2) P(x, = k[ Yl =Jl, "",Yt-1 =J,-1,Y, =J) = P(x, = k I y, =j) =(k-1 n Received August 22, 1964 *Research supported by Ott~ce of Naval Research and Aerospace Research Laboratories. Reproduction in whole or in part is permitted for any purpose of the United States Government. 81

2 82 Y.S. CHOW et al. [June so that (3) e(xi [Yi =J) = k ~= t kp(xi = kl Yi =J) = ni + i. + 1 j. For any stopping rule z the expected absolute rank of the girl selected is therefore EX=E( n+l ) ---~-~y,. We wish to minimize this value by optimal choice of T. To find an optimal z by the usual method of backward induction we define for i= O, 1,..., n- 1, c, = c~(n) = minimal possible expected absolute rank of girl selected if we must confine ourselves to stopping rules ~ such that v > i + 1. We are trying to find the value Co. Now (.+ ) =_1 j = (4) c'~-a=e -n-~l y" n a 2 ' and for i = n - 1, n- 2,..., 1, (5) ci- a = E min ~Yi, ci = -7- ~ min Z--,---i-J, c~ o j=a These equations allow us to compute successively the values c,_ a, c,_ 2,'", ca, Co and contain the implicit definition of an optimal stopping rule. Equation (5) can be rewritten more simply if we denote by Ix] the greatest integer < x and set i+l ] (i=n--l,...,1); (6) si = -ff--~'~ ci J then (5) becomes (7) I [n+l } ci-1 = -T // ( si) + (i - s~)ci 1 {n+l si(si+l) } = -:- + (i - s3ei. t i+1 2 Defining s, = n, an optimal stopping rule is, stop with the first i > 1 such that Yi < si; the expected absolute rank of the girl selected using this rule is Co. We observe from (4) and (5) that n+l (8) C0 < 1<= = "'" =<~Cn- 1 = ' and from(6) and (8) that six i and (9) sl<-s2<...

3 1964] OPTIMAL SELECTION BASED ON RELATIVE RANK 83 For example, let n = 4. Then from (4), (6),and(7), c 3 =-~-,s 3=2,ca =~- "-~+ = ~-~,s2=l, q = 3-" +~ = T' 15 S 1 =0, C o =C 1 =-~-, and an optimal stopping rule is given by the vector (s 1, "",S4) = (0, 1,2,4). The values of Co for n = 10, 100, 1000 are found by similar computation to be respectively 2.56, 3.60, D. V. Lindley [1] has treated this problem heuristically for large n by replacing (7) by a single differential equation. His results indicate that for n ~ o% Co should approach a finite limit, but his method is too rough to give the value of this limit. A more adequate but still heuristic approach involves replacing (7) by an infinite sequence of differential equations, one for each value 0, 1,... of si. This method indicates that Iim Co (all limits as n ~ c~) has the value (10) fi (j ~_2)l/j+ 1 ~ j=l It is not clear how to make this heuristic argument rigorous by appealing to known theorems on the approximation of difference equations by differential equations. Instead, we shall give a direct proof that Co tends to the value (10). 2. The basic inequalities. We shall derive rather crude upper and lower bounds for the constants ci which will permit the evaluation of lira Co. To this end we define the constants i+1 (1) t~ -- 1 c~ (i = 0, 1,--., n -- i). n+ From (1.8) it follows that (2) to<ti<'"<t // n_l =--f and (1.7) becomes (3) For fixed i set ti-1 = si(si + 1) + 2(i - s3t i 2(i+ 1), s i = ['tj (i = 1,..., n - 1). (4) then (3) becomes (5) t~ =s~+ 7, 0< ~ < 1; h(1 + 2i - t3 ~(1 - ~) t~_l - 2(i+ 1) 2(i + 1)'

4 84 Y.S. CHOW et al. [June Put (6) T(x) - x(1 + 2i - x). 2(i + 1) ' then for x < i + ½, 1 + 2i - 2x (7) T'(x) = > 0 2(i + 1) so T(x) is increasing for x < i + ½, and by (5), (8) tl-1 ~ T(h). We now prove the first basic inequality. LEMMA 1. 2n (9) t i n--i+3 Proof. (9) is true for i~, n - 1 since by (2) n 2n t " (i = 0,..., n - 1). Assume (9) holds for some 1 < i~ n - 1; we shall prove that it holds for i - 1. We know by (1.8) and (1) that i i n+l i (10) h-i =h--'-+-i "c~-1 -n+l < =--'2 2n If2<=n-i2+ 4 then (9) holds for i- 1. If ~-- > - - n-i+4 so by (8), since T(x) is increasing for x < i + ½, then i + ~ > 2n =n-i+3' - = n-i--i- 3 = (i +l)(n - i + 3) 2 < = n - - i + 4' since the last inequality is equivalent to (n- i + 3) 2 + (2n- 2i- 1)(n- i + 3) + 2n >= 0, which is true for n - i > 1. Hence (9) holds for i - 1 in this case also, and the lemma is proved. COROLLARY I. (12) Co < 8 (n = 1, 2,...). Proof. In (9) set i = [ 2]. Then n+l n+l 2n < 2n(n + 1) (13) c o _< c~ =/--~Tt~ =< --i+1 < 8.

5 1964] OPTIMAL SELECTION BASED ON RELATIVE RANK 85 We next observe that (14) t,_ 1 ~ ~ 1 2(i + 1) (i =-- 1,-.-, n - 1). This inequality follows from (5) if we show that which reduces to ti(l+2i-ti) ~(1 - ~) i { h } 2(i+1) 2~(/-~1) ->- i~-lti 1 2(i+1) ' t, ] _>_ a(t - = - [td), (15) t i 1 i+1 h / and this is true if t~ > 1, since t i < i by (10), and if t~ < 1, since then h = ~. We now establish the second basic inequality. LEMMA 2. 3(i + 1) (16) tt ~_ 2(n -- i + 2) (i = 0,..., n - 1). Proof. (16) is true for i = n - 1; suppose it is true for some 1 < i < n - 1. Define r(x)=x 1 2(i+1) ' i+1 which is increasing for x < i + 1. Since by (10) h< ~, we have by (14), ti-1 > i T(ti)> i ~T( 3(i+1) ) = i+1 = i+1 2(n-i+2) 3i(4n - 4i + 5) > 3i 8(n-i+2)2 =2(n-i+3)" which is equivalent to i < n - 1. This proves the lemma. We have seen (1.9) that for any positive integer k, if n > 2k then sn-t ~ k. We now define for each k = 1,2,..- and each n> 2k, (17) i k ---- smallest integer j >_ 1 such that sj > k. We note that s~-i = 0 and hence from (1.7), (18) Co = cl... c,_ I.

6 86 Y.S. CHOW et al. [June COROLLARY 2. (19) lim i! > 1... n =8 Proof. by (13), If ix > In/2] then ix > In/2] + 1 > n/2, (q/n) > ½. If i x < In/2] then l < si~ < ti: -- i~--+ l i 1 +1 i a + l n + l Cil < <--.8. = = = n+lc["/2] n+l n+l (We remark that i 1 > 1 for n > 2, since if i x = 1 then sl = 1 and Co = --~---, which only holds for n =< 2.) COROLLARY 3. On every set (20) { ~<--=ni <fl;0<~<fl<l}, (21) lim (ti - t _ 1) = 0 uniformly. Proof. From (14) and (9), i 0 =< t,- q_~ =< t~ i + 1 fi ti } ti it 2 1 2(i+1) -- i ~ 2(i+1) < (1 + ti) 2 < ( 1 = 2(i + 1) = COROLLARY 4. For k = 1,2,... and n > 12k, +--- l+] --Z-- 1 < ~ O. 2(i + 1) 2~ n (22) ik > 1_2 n ' (23) i L < 1 _ 1 n = -~/~ Proof. By (9), 2n tk> 1 2 Sik > k ~ tik > k => ~ >- k => - -- = = n -- i k -- n k' which proves (22). (23) holds if ik < [ 2 ], for then i Lk < 1 <1 1 n = 2 = 2k'

7 1964l OPTIMAL SELECTION BASED ON RELATIVE RANK 87 andif ik > [2 ] then by (16), slk_x<k~h~_l<k= > 3ik 2(n - ik + 3) 3i k 3n <k:~-<n-i~+ 3:~-k<n-i k + 3 COROLLARY 5. 3 / k+3 /~< ~-~ < <1-- for n > 12k. n n n - ~ + n - ~ = (24) lira hk = lira t~k_ ~ = k (k,?, = 1,2,...). Proof. t~_~ < k _<_ ttk. 1 1 Choose ~, fl so that 0 < u < -8-, 1 - ~ < fl < 1. Then by (19) and (23), (25) ~ < f~ - ~ < ~</~ n n for sufficiently large n. Hence by Corollary 3, COROLLARY 6. For k = 1,2, Proof of the Theorem. Choose and fix a positive integer k and let n by (2.26) be so large that sik =k, sik+t = k + 1. For i k =< i <it+l define k (1) v~ = t, - ~. Substituting in (2.3) we find that lim(hk -- hk-r) = 0. (26) sik = k for sufficiently large n, (27) lim(ik+l -- ik) = oo. Proof. k _<- s,k -<_ ti~ together with (24) proves (26). lim (t~ +~ - fi~) = 1 and lim(t~k+, - ttk +1- ~) = 0 by (24), and these relations imply (27). k k(k+l)+2(/-k) v~+~- %-1 + -~- = 2(/+ 1) i+1 (2) vt = i--kv~-l" k i-k =T + TFT v''

8 88 Y. S. CHOW et al. [June Hence for i k < i < ik+l, (3) v i = and hence i+1 i+1 i ik-t-2 i--k Ot-l- i-k i-k-1 ik--k+l vik i+1 i i+l-k k+l~ i+j-k ~ i k q- 1 i k i k k " vik = vik ~I \ ~j ~ k ' j=l k (4) tl -~+ (tt~--~ ) kh ( i+j-k ~ = j=,?f~jr:--k/" Set i -- i k ; then _ H From (2.19) and (2.24) it follows that k k k+l l--[ lim/ik+~ / ) +j -- k - 1 k+l =-2- + T j=, \ ffk ~-7 L---kk and hence "2k k + (ik+l) 1 2 = + _--lim -- \ ik From (2.22) (7) (1--~-)kfil( j ~/j+l <lim--<l-~--i~ il <~-1~11[ j ~l/j+l j = ~ j + 2 / =, n = n.= \j%-t/ " Letting k-+ o% (8) -- ~ " /I j=l Now by (2.24) and (2.18), (9) Thus we have proved the 1 =limt/l_ 1 = lim( ix,) lim( o).i=1 j ~1/j+1. THEOREM. j=l

9 1964] OPTIMAL SELECTION BASED ON RELATIVE RANK Remarks. 1. It is interesting to note that c o = co(n ) is a strictly increasing function of n; thus in view of the Theorem, (1) co(n) < 3.87 (n = 1, 2,...). A direct proof that co(n) is strictly increasing based on the formulas of Section 1 is difficult, since there is no obvious relation between the c~ for different values of n. However, a direct probabilistic proof can be given which involves no use of the recursion formulas. Let (sl,...,s,,n + 1) be any stopping rule for the case of n + 1 girls such that st < i for i = 1,..., n (any optimal stopping rule has this property). Define for i = 1,..., n (2) tj(i) ={sj for j=l,...,i-1, Sj+x for j = i,...,n, and (3) tl(n+ i) = (~ for j = 1,...,n- 1, for j = n. It is easy to see that at least one of the stopping rules defined by (tl(i),..., t,(i)), i = 1,..., n + 1 must give a value of c o for the case n which is less than that given by (sl,..., sn, n + 1) for the case n + 1. Hence Co(n) < co(n + 1). 2. We assumed that the n girls appear in random order, all n! permutations being equally likely. The minimal expected absolute rank of the girl chosen is then Co < 3.87 for all n. Suppose now that the order in which the girls are to appear is determined by an opponent who wishes to maximize the expected absolute rank of the girl we choose. No matter what he does, by choosing at random the first, second,..., last girl to appear we can achieve the value EX = ( n)/n =(n + 1)/2. And in fact there exists an opponent strategy such that, no matter what stopping rule we use, EX = (n + 1)/2. Let Xl = 1 or n, each with probability 1/2; let Xt l = either the largest or the smallest of the integers remaining after x~,...,x~ have been chosen, each with probability 1/2. If we define for i = 1,..., n (4) z I = E(x~ [Yl, "", Y~), ~ = &(Yl, "", Y~), then it is easy to see that {z~,&~(i = 1,...,n)} is a martingale, so that for any stopping rule ~, (5) g(x) -- E(z0 = e(zl) = (n + 1)/2.

10 90 Y.S. CHOW et al. Many extensions and generalizations of the problem considered in this paper suggest themselves at once. Some further results will be presented elsewhere. REFERENCE 1. D. Y. Lindley, Dynamic programming and decision theory, Applied Statistics 10 (1961), P~RD~'~ U~uv~srry UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO COLUMmA UNIVERSITY PURDUE UNDJF...RsrrY

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