Set-Encoder: Permutation-Invariant Inter-Passage Attention for Listwise Passage Re-Ranking with Cross-Encoders

Proceedings of the 47th International ACM SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval

Cross-encoders are effective passage re-rankers. But when re-ranking multiple passages at once, existing cross-encoders inefficiently optimize the output ranking over several input permutations, as their passage interactions are not permutation-invariant. Moreover, their high memory footprint constrains the number of passages during listwise training. To tackle these issues, we propose the Set-Encoder, a new cross-encoder architecture that (1) introduces inter-passage attention with parallel passage processing to ensure permutation invariance between input passages, and that (2) uses fused-attention kernels to enable training with more passages at a time. In experiments on TREC Deep Learning and TIREx, the Set-Encoder is more effective than previous cross-encoders with a similar number of parameters. Compared to larger models, the Set-Encoder is more efficient and either on par or even more effective.