Facebook Research at ACL 2019

July 28, 2019


The 57th meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) is taking place this year from July 28 to August 2 in Florence, Italy. Researchers from Facebook are presenting their work in oral spotlights, poster sessions, invited talks, and other workshop activities. At the Fourth Conference on Machine Translation (WMT), to name one example, several Facebook AI researchers tested their latest advances in machine translation by participating in the news translation task and the parallel corpus filtering task .

For those attending ACL, be sure to stop by Booth F to talk with researchers, recruiters, and program managers about Facebook AI research and potential career opportunities. See the full schedule of Facebook papers, workshops, and tutorials at ACL here.

Facebook research being presented at ACL 2019

Adaptive Attention Span in Transformers

Sainbayar Sukhbaatar, Edouard Grave, Piotr Bojanowski, and Armand Joulin

We propose a novel self-attention mechanism that can learn its optimal attention span. This allows us to extend significantly the maximum context size used in Transformer, while maintaining control over their memory footprint and computational time. We show the effectiveness of our approach on the task of character level language modeling, where we achieve state-of-the-art performances on text8 and enwiki8 by using a maximum context of 8K characters.

Better Character Language Modeling Through Morphology

Terra Blevins and Luke Zettlemoyer

We incorporate morphological supervision into character language models (CLMs) via multitasking and show that this addition improves bits-per-character (BPC) performance across 24 languages, even when the morphology data and language modeling data are disjoint. Analyzing the CLMs shows that inflected words benefit more from explicitly modeling morphology than uninflected words, and that morphological supervision improves performance even as the amount of language modeling data grows. We then transfer morphological supervision across languages to improve language modeling performance in the low-resource setting.

How to Get Past Sesame Street: Sentence-Level Pretraining Beyond Language Modeling

Alex Wang, Jan Hula, Patrick Xia, Raghavendra Pappagar, R. Thomas Mccoy, Roma Patel, Najoung Kim, Ian Tenney, Yinghui Huang, Katherin Yu, Shuning Jin, Berlin Chen, Benjamin Van Durme, Edouard Grave, Ellie Pavlick, and Samuel R. Bowman

Natural language understanding has recently seen a surge of progress with the use of sentence encoders like ELMo (Peters et al., 2018a) and BERT (Devlin et al., 2019), which are pretrained on variants of language modeling. We conduct the first large-scale systematic study of candidate pretraining tasks, comparing 19 different tasks both as alternatives and complements to language modeling. Our primary results support the use language modeling, especially when combined with pretraining on additional labeled-data tasks. However, our results are mixed across pretraining tasks and show some concerning trends: In ELMo’s pretrain-then-freeze paradigm, random baselines are worryingly strong and results vary strikingly across target tasks. In addition, fine-tuning BERT on an intermediate task often negatively impacts downstream transfer. We also see modest gains from multitask training, suggesting the development of more sophisticated multitask and transfer learning techniques as an avenue for further research.

CNNs Found to Jump Around More Skillfully than RNNs: Compositional Generalization in Seq2seq Convolutional Networks

Roberto Dessi and Marco Baroni

Lake and Baroni (2018) introduced the SCAN data set probing the ability of seq2seq models to capture compositional generalizations, such as inferring the meaning of “jump around” 0-shot from the component words. Recurrent networks (RNNs) were found to completely fail the most challenging generalization cases. We test here a convolutional network (CNN) on these tasks, reporting hugely improved performance with respect to RNNs. Despite the big improvement, the CNN has however not induced systematic rules, suggesting that the difference between compositional and non-compositional behaviour is not clear-cut.

CoDraw: Collaborative Drawing as a Testbed for Grounded Goal-Driven Communication

Jin-Hwa Kim, Nikita Kitaev, Xinlei Chen , Marcus Rohrbach, Byoung-Tak Zhang, Yuandong Tian, Dhruv Batra, and Devi Parikh

In this work, we propose a goal-driven collaborative task that combines language, perception, and action. Specifically, we develop a Collaborative image-Drawing game between two agents, called CoDraw. Our game is grounded in a virtual world that contains movable clip art objects. The game involves two players: a Teller and a Drawer. The Teller sees an abstract scene containing multiple clip art pieces in a semantically meaningful configuration, while the Drawer tries to reconstruct the scene on an empty canvas using available clip art pieces. The two players communicate with each other using natural language. We collect the CoDraw data set of ∼10K dialogs consisting of ∼138K messages exchanged between human players. We define protocols and metrics to evaluate learned agents in this testbed, highlighting the need for a novel crosstalk evaluation condition which pairs agents trained independently on disjoint subsets of the training data. We present models for our task and benchmark them using both fully automated evaluation and by having them play the game live with humans.

Constrained Decoding for Neural NLG from Compositional Representations in Task-Oriented Dialogue

Anusha Balakrishnan, Jinfeng Rao, Kartikeya Upasani, Michael White, and Rajen Subba

Generating fluent natural language responses from structured semantic representations is a critical step in task-oriented conversational systems. Avenues like the E2E NLG Challenge have encouraged the development of neural approaches, particularly sequence-to-sequence (seq2seq) models for this problem. The semantic representations used, however, are often underspecified, which places a higher burden on the generation model for sentence planning, and also limits the extent to which generated responses can be controlled in a live system. In this paper, we (1) propose using tree-structured semantic representations, like those used in traditional rule-based NLG systems, for better discourse-level structuring and sentence-level planning; (2) introduce a challenging data set using this representation for the weather domain; (3) introduce a constrained decoding approach for seq2seq models that leverages this representation to improve semantic correctness; and (4) demonstrate promising results on our data set and the E2E data set.

Dialogue Natural Language Inference

Sean Welleck, Jason Weston, Arthur Szlam, and Kyunghyun Cho

Consistency is a long-standing issue faced by dialogue models. In this paper, we frame the consistency of dialogue agents as natural language inference (NLI) and create a new natural language inference data set called Dialogue NLI. We propose a method which demonstrates that a model trained on Dialogue NLI can be used to improve the consistency of a dialogue model, and evaluate the method with human evaluation and with automatic metrics on a suite of evaluation sets designed to measure a dialogue model’s consistency.

ELI5: Long-Form Question Answering

Angela Fan, Yacine Jernite, Ethan Perez, David Grangier, Jason Weston, and Michael Auli

We introduce the first large-scale corpus for long-form question answering, a task requiring elaborate and in-depth answers to open-ended questions. The data set comprises 270K threads from the Reddit forum “Explain like I’m Five” (ELI5), where an online community provides answers to questions which are comprehensible by five-year-olds. Compared to existing data sets, ELI5 comprises diverse questions requiring multisentence answers. We provide a large set of web documents to help answer the question. Automatic and human evaluations show that an abstractive model trained with a multitask objective outperforms conventional seq2seq, language modeling, as well as a strong extractive baseline. However, our best model is still far from human performance, since raters prefer gold responses in over 86 percent of cases, leaving ample opportunity for future improvement.

Improved Zero-Shot Neural Machine Translation via Ignoring Spurious Correlations

Jiatao Gu, Yong Wang, Kyunghyun Cho, and Victor O.K. Li

Zero-shot translation, translating between language pairs on which a neural machine translation (NMT) system has never been trained, is an emergent property when training the system in multilingual settings. However, naïve training for zero-shot NMT easily fails, and is sensitive to hyper-parameter setting. The performance typically lags far behind the more conventional pivot-based approach which translates twice using a third language as a pivot. In this work, we address the degeneracy problem due to capturing spurious correlations by quantitatively analyzing the mutual information between language IDs of the source and decoded sentences. Inspired by this analysis, we propose to use two simple but effective approaches: (1) decoder pre-training; (2) back-translation. These methods show significant improvement (4 ∼ 22 BLEU points) over the vanilla zero-shot translation on three challenging multilingual data sets, and achieve similar or better results than the pivot-based approach.

Inferring Concept Hierarchies from Text Corpora via Hyperbolic Embeddings

Matthew Le, Stephen Roller, Laetitia Papaxanthos, Douwe Kiela, and Maximilian Nickel

We consider the task of inferring is-a relationships from large text corpora. For this purpose, we propose a new method combining hyperbolic embeddings and Hearst patterns. This approach allows us to set appropriate constraints for inferring concept hierarchies from distributional contexts while also being able to predict missing is-a relationships and to correct wrong extractions. Moreover — and in contrast with other methods — the hierarchical nature of hyperbolic space allows us to learn highly efficient representations and to improve the taxonomic consistency of the inferred hierarchies. Experimentally, we show that our approach achieves state-of-the-art performance on several commonly used benchmarks.

Keeping Notes: Conditional Natural Language Generation with a Scratchpad Encoder

Ryan Benmalek, Madian Khabsa, Suma Desu, Claire Cardie, and Michele Banko

We introduce the Scratchpad Mechanism, a novel addition to the sequence-to-sequence (seq2seq) neural network architecture and demonstrate its effectiveness in improving the overall fluency of seq2seq models for natural language generation tasks. By enabling the decoder at each time step to write to all of the encoder output layers, Scratchpad can employ the encoder as a “scratchpad” memory to keep track of what has been generated so far and thereby guide future generation. We evaluate Scratchpad in the context of three well-studied natural language generation tasks — machine translation (MT), question generation, and text summarization — and obtain state-of-the-art or comparable performance on standard data sets for each task. Qualitative assessments in the form of human judgments (question generation), attention visualization (MT), and sample output (summarization) provide further evidence of the ability of Scratchpad to generate fluent and expressive output.

Learning from Dialogue after Deployment: Feed Yourself, Chatbot!

Braden Hancock, Antoine Bordes, Pierre-Emmanuel Mazare, and Jason Weston

The majority of conversations a dialogue agent sees over its lifetime occur after it has already been trained and deployed, leaving a vast store of potential training signal untapped. In this work, we propose the self-feeding chatbot, a dialogue agent with the ability to extract new training examples from the conversations it participates in. As our agent engages in conversation, it also estimates user satisfaction in its responses. When the conversation appears to be going well, the user’s responses become new training examples to imitate. When the agent believes it has made a mistake, it asks for feedback; learning to predict the feedback that will be given improves the chatbot’s dialogue abilities further. On the PERSONACHAT chit-chat data set with over 131K training examples, we find that learning from dialogue with a self-feeding chatbot significantly improves performance, regardless of the amount of traditional supervision.

Lightweight and Efficient Neural Natural Language Processing with Quaternion Networks

Yi Tay, Aston Zhang, Anh Tuan Luu, Jinfeng Rao, Shuai Zhang, Shuohang Wang, Jie Fu, and Siu Cheung Hui

Many state-of-the-art neural models for NLP are heavily parameterized and thus memory inefficient. This paper proposes a series of lightweight and memory efficient neural architectures for a potpourri of natural language processing (NLP) tasks. To this end, our models exploit computation using Quaternion algebra and hypercomplex spaces, enabling not only expressive inter-component interactions but also significantly (75 percent) reduced parameter size due to lesser degrees of freedom in the Hamilton product. We propose Quaternion variants of models, giving rise to new architectures such as the Quaternion attention Model and Quaternion Transformer. Extensive experiments on a battery of NLP tasks demonstrates the utility of proposed Quaternion-inspired models, enabling up to 75 percent reduction in parameter size without significant loss in performance.

Margin-Based Parallel Corpus Mining with Multilingual Sentence Embeddings

Mikel Artetxe and Holger Schwenk

Machine translation is highly sensitive to the size and quality of the training data, which has led to an increasing interest in collecting and filtering large parallel corpora. In this paper, we propose a new method for this task based on multilingual sentence embeddings. In contrast to previous approaches, which rely on nearest neighbor retrieval with a hard threshold over cosine similarity, our proposed method accounts for the scale inconsistencies of this measure, considering the margin between a given sentence pair and its closest candidates instead. Our experiments show large improvements over existing methods. We outperform the best published results on the BUCC mining task and the UN reconstruction task by more than 10 F1 and 30 precision points, respectively. Filtering the English-German ParaCrawl corpus with our approach, we obtain 31.2 BLEU points on newstest2014, an improvement of more than one point over the best official filtered version.

Miss Tools and Mr Fruit: Emergent Communication in Agents Learning about Object Affordances

Diane Bouchacourt and Marco Baroni

Recent research studies communication emergence in communities of deep network agents assigned a joint task, hoping to gain insights on human language evolution. We propose here a new task capturing crucial aspects of the human environment, such as natural object affordances, and of human conversation, such as full symmetry among the participants. By conducting a thorough pragmatic and semantic analysis of the emergent protocol, we show that the agents solve the shared task through genuine bilateral, referential communication. However, the agents develop multiple idiolects, which makes us conclude that full symmetry is not a sufficient condition for a common language to emerge.

On the Distribution of Deep Clausal Embeddings: A Large Cross-Linguistic Study

Damian Blasi, Ryan Cotterell, Lawrence Wolf-Sonkin, Sabine Stoll, Balthasar Bickel, and Marco Baroni

Embedding a clause inside another (“the girl [who likes cars [that run fast]] has arrived”) is a fundamental resource that has been argued to be a key driver of linguistic expressiveness. As such, it plays a central role in fundamental debates on what makes human language unique, and how they might have evolved. Empirical evidence on the prevalence and the limits of embeddings has however been based on either laboratory setups or corpus data of relatively limited size. We introduce here a collection of large, dependency-parsed written corpora in 17 languages, that allows us, for the first time, to capture clausal embedding through dependency graphs and assess their distribution. Our results indicate that there is no evidence for hard constraints on embedding depth: The tail of depth distributions is heavy. Moreover, although deeply embedded clauses tend to be shorter, suggesting processing load issues, complex sentences with many embeddings do not display a bias towards less deep embeddings. Taken together, the results suggest that deep embeddings are not disfavored in written language. More generally, our study illustrates how resources and methods from latest-generation big data NLP can provide new perspectives on fundamental questions in theoretical linguistics.

OpenDialKG: Explainable Conversational Reasoning with Attention-Based Walks over Knowledge Graphs

Seungwhan Moon, Pararth Shah, Anuj Kumar, and Rajen Subba

We study a conversational reasoning model that strategically traverses through a large-scale common fact knowledge graph (KG) to introduce engaging and contextually diverse entities and attributes. For this study, we collect a new Open-ended Dialog ↔ KG parallel corpus called OpenDialKG, where each utterance from 15K human-to-human role-playing dialogs is manually annotated with ground-truth reference to corresponding entities and paths from a large-scale KG with 1M+ facts. We then propose the DialKG Walker model that learns the symbolic transitions of dialog contexts as structured traversals over KG, and predicts natural entities to introduce given previous dialog contexts via a novel domain-agnostic, attention-based graph path decoder. Automatic and human evaluations show that our model can retrieve more natural and human-like responses than the state-of-the-art baselines or rule-based models, in both in-domain and cross-domain tasks. The proposed model also generates a KG walk path for each entity retrieved, providing a natural way to explain conversational reasoning.

The Referential Reader: A Recurrent Entity Network for Anaphora Resolution

Fei Liu, Luke Zettlemoyer, and Jacob Eisenstein

We present a new architecture for storing and accessing entity mentions during online text processing. While reading the text, entity references are identified, and may be stored by either updating or overwriting a cell in a fixed-length memory. The update operation implies coreference with the other mentions that are stored in the same cell; the overwrite operation causes these mentions to be forgotten. By encoding the memory operations as differentiable gates, it is possible to train the model end-to-end, using both a supervised anaphora resolution objective as well as a supplementary language modeling objective. Evaluation on a data set of pronoun-name anaphora demonstrates strong performance with purely incremental text processing.

Simple and Effective Curriculum Pointer-Generator Networks for Reading Comprehension over Long Narratives

Yi Tay, Shuohang Wang, Anh Tuan Luu, Jie Fu, Minh C. Phan, Xingdi Yuan, Jinfeng Rao, Siu Cheung Hui, and Aston Zhang

This paper tackles the problem of reading comprehension over long narratives where documents easily span over thousands of tokens. We propose a curriculum learning (CL) based Pointer-Generator framework for reading/sampling over large documents, enabling diverse training of the neural model based on the notion of alternating contextual difficulty. This can be interpreted as a form of domain randomization and/or generative pretraining during training. To this end, the usage of the Pointer-Generator softens the requirement of having the answer within the context, enabling us to construct diverse training samples for learning. Additionally, we propose a new Introspective Alignment Layer (IAL), which reasons over decomposed alignments using block-based self-attention. We evaluate our proposed method on the NarrativeQA reading comprehension benchmark, achieving state-of-the-art performance, improving existing baselines by 51 percent relative improvement on BLEU-4 and 17 percent relative improvement on Rouge-L. Extensive ablations confirm the effectiveness of our proposed IAL and CL components.

Strategies for Structuring Story Generation

Angela Fan, Mike Lewis, and Yann Dauphin

Writers often rely on plans or sketches to write long stories, but most current language models generate word by word from left to right. We explore coarse-to-fine models for creating narrative texts of several hundred words, and introduce new models which decompose stories by abstracting over actions and entities. The model first generates the predicate-argument structure of the text, where different mentions of the same entity are marked with placeholder tokens. It then generates a surface realization of the predicate-argument structure, and finally replaces the entity placeholders with context-sensitive names and references. Human judges prefer the stories from our models to a wide range of previous approaches to hierarchical text generation. Extensive analysis shows that our methods can help improve the diversity and coherence of events and entities in generated stories.

Towards Empathetic Open-Domain Conversation Models: A New Benchmark and Dataset

Hannah Rashkin, Eric Michael Smith, Margaret Li, and Y-Lan Boureau

One challenge for dialogue agents is recognizing feelings in the conversation partner and replying accordingly, a key communicative skill. While it is straightforward for humans to recognize and acknowledge others’ feelings in a conversation, this is a significant challenge for AI systems due to the paucity of suitable publicly available data sets for training and evaluation. This work proposes a new benchmark for empathetic dialogue generation and EMPATHETICDIALOGUES, a novel data set of 25K conversations grounded in emotional situations. Our experiments indicate that dialogue models that use our data set are perceived to be more empathetic by human evaluators, compared to models merely trained on large-scale internet conversation data. We also present empirical comparisons of dialogue model adaptations for empathetic responding, leveraging existing models or data sets without requiring lengthy retraining of the full model.

Towards Language Agnostic Universal Representations

Armen Aghajanyan, Xia Song, and Saurabh Tiwary

When a bilingual student learns to solve word problems in math, we expect the student to be able to solve these problem in both languages the student is fluent in, even if the math lessons were only taught in one language. However, current representations in machine learning are language dependent. In this work, we present a method to decouple the language from the problem by learning language agnostic representations and therefore allowing training a model in one language and applying to a different one in a zero shot fashion. We learn these representations by taking inspiration from linguistics, specifically the Universal Grammar hypothesis and learn universal latent representations that are language agnostic (Chomsky, 2014; Montague, 1970). We demonstrate the capabilities of these representations by showing that models trained on a single language using language agnostic representations achieve very similar accuracies in other languages.

Training Hybrid Language Models by Marginalizing over Segmentations

Edouard Grave, Sainbayar Sukhbaatar, Piotr Bojanowski, and Armand Joulin

In this paper, we study the problem of hybrid language modeling, that is, using models which can predict both characters and larger units such as character ngrams or words. Using such models, multiple potential segmentations usually exist for a given string, for example, one using words and one using characters only. Thus, the probability of a string is the sum of the probabilities of all the possible segmentations. Here, we show how it is possible to marginalize over the segmentations efficiently, in order to compute the true probability of a sequence. We apply our technique on three data sets, comprising seven languages, showing improvements over a strong character-level language model.

Translating Translationese: A Two-Step Approach to Unsupervised Machine Translation

Nima Pourdamghani, Nada Aldarrab, Marjan Ghazvininejad, Kevin Knight, and Jonathan May

Given a rough, word-by-word gloss of a source language sentence, target language natives can uncover the latent, fully fluent rendering of the translation. In this work we explore this intuition by breaking translation into a two step process: generating a rough gloss by means of a dictionary and then “translating” the resulting pseudo-translation, or “Translationese” into a fully fluent translation. We build our Translationese decoder once from a mish-mash of parallel data that has the target language in common and then can build dictionaries on demand using unsupervised techniques, resulting in rapidly generated unsupervised neural MT systems for many source languages. We apply this process to 14 test languages, obtaining better or comparable translation results on high-resource languages than previously published unsupervised MT studies, and obtaining good quality results for low-resource languages that have never been used in an unsupervised MT scenario.

Unsupervised Question Answering by Cloze Translation

Patrick Lewis, Ludovic Denoyer, and Sebastian Riedel

Obtaining training data for Question Answering (QA) is time-consuming and resource-intensive, and existing QA data sets are only available for limited domains and languages. In this work, we explore to what extent high-quality training data is actually required for Extractive QA and investigate the possibility of unsupervised Extractive QA. We approach this problem by first learning to generate context, question, and answer triples in an unsupervised manner, which we then use to synthesize Extractive QA training data automatically. To generate such triples, we first sample random context paragraphs from a large corpus of documents and then random noun phrases or named entity mentions from these paragraphs as answers. Next we convert answers in context to fill-in-the-blank cloze questions and finally translate them into natural questions. We propose and compare various unsupervised ways to perform cloze-to-natural question translation, including training an unsupervised NMT model using non-aligned corpora of natural questions and cloze questions as well as a rule-based approach. We find that modern QA models can learn to answer human questions surprisingly well using only synthetic training data. We demonstrate that, without using the SQuAD training data at all, our approach achieves 56.4 F1 on SQuAD v1 (64.5 F1 when the answer is a named entity mention), outperforming early supervised models.

Word-Order Biases in Deep-Agent Emergent Communication

Rahma Chaabouni, Evgeny Kharitonov, Alessandro Lazari, Emmanuel Dupoux, and Marco Baroni

Sequence-processing neural networks led to remarkable progress on many NLP tasks. As a consequence, there has been increasing interest in understanding to what extent they process language as humans do. We aim here to uncover which biases such models display with respect to natural word-order constraints. We train models to communicate about paths in a simple gridworld, using miniature languages that reflect or violate various natural language trends, such as the tendency to avoid redundancy or to minimize long-distance dependencies. We study how the controlled characteristics of our miniature languages affect individual learning and their stability across multiple network generations. The results draw a mixed picture. On the one hand, neural networks show a strong tendency to avoid long-distance dependencies. On the other hand, there is no clear preference for the efficient, non-redundant encoding of information that is widely attested in natural language. We thus suggest inoculating a notion of effort into neural networks, as a possible way to make their linguistic behavior more human-like.

Workshops & Tutorials at ACL

NLP for Conversational AI

Invited talk: Putting Together the Threads of Conversational AI?
Jason Weston

Paper: OpenDialKG: Explainable Conversational Reasoning with Attention-Based Walks over Knowledge Graphs
Seungwhan Moon, Pararth Shah, Anuj Kumar, and Rajen Subba


Invited talk: Grammatical gender: What does it mean?
Adina Williams


Paper: Facebook FAIR’s WMT19 News Translation Task Submission
Nathan Ng, Kyra Yee, Alexei Baevski, Myle Ott, Michael Auli, and Sergey Edunov

Paper: Findings of the WMT 2019 Shared Task on Parallel Corpus Filtering for Low-Resource Conditions
Philipp Koehn, Francisco Guzmán, Vishrav Choudhary, and Juan Pino

Paper: Low-Resource Corpus Filtering Using Multilingual Sentence Embeddings
Vishrav Chaudhary, Yuqing Tang, Francisco Guzmán, Holger Schwenk, and Philipp Koehn

Workshop on Representation Learning for NLP

Invited talk: Language Emergence as Representation Learning
Marco Baroni