I have a fairly unique problem to solve and I am hoping somebody here can give me some insight into how to best tackle it.
Problem: Suppose a list of N numbers is shared among a set of participants in such a way that no single participant actually knows any of the numbers they share. All participants know N (the size of the list of numbers) and the sum of all of the numbers on the list, but nothing more a priori.
By working together, it is possible to compare two shared numbers a and b in such a way that the participants learn whether the statement "a < b" is true, but nothing more. However, this is an extremely expensive thing to do (read: it could take many seconds, perhaps even minutes, to complete a single comparison). See the end of this post for a bit more information on how such a thing is possible.
At the end of the day, the parties wish to output of which indices in the list correspond to the "top K percent" (the K% which is largest) shared numbers in the list. This can of course be done by sorting, or using a "top K" selection algorithm. However, these tend to use an aweful lot of comparisons, which is to be avoided. (These are either O(n log n) or O(n), with fairly large hidden constants.)
Another alternative is to "guess" at a number X for which (1-K)% are smaller than X and K% are larger. Then you can compare each element with X and see how many are larger and how many are smaller. If your guess was wrong, revise it using something like a binary search until you converge on a correct solution. This takes far fewer comparisons if your guess is good.
So, my question is,
Given only N and the sum, what is the best way to "predict" X?
Of course this will depend on the underlying distribution. For different use-cases the underlying distribution will likely be different but will be known, so I am interested in good solutions for all the common ones (normal, uniform, exponential, perhaps a few others). I would also love to hear suggestions regarding how best to do the "binary-like" search to minimize the number of steps given an assumption about the underlying distribution.
APPENDIX: Each value on the list is shared among participants using Shamir's secret sharing scheme. Suppose there are M participants and the list is of length N. Then, the i-th number on the list is represented by a polynomial $f_i$ of degree M-1 over some finite field F. The constant term of $f_i$ is the number that is shared, all other coefficients are chosen uniformly at random from F. The j-th participant's shares are then $f_i(j)$, $1\leq i\leq N$. Given this share, the participant has no information (in an information-theoretic sense) about the number; in fact, no proper subset of participants can combine knowledge to learn any information about the shared numbers. However, using a sophisticated secure multi-party computation technique, it is possible to determine if one shared value is less than another without revealing any more information. This technique involves all participants cooperating, which is why it is so costly to do and should be done the fewest number of times possible.