Undergraduate Computer and Data Science Research Fair

This fall, Columbia University and Barnard College will host the inaugural Undergraduate Computer and Data Science Research Fair to showcase undergraduate student work in data science and related fields. Applications will be accepted along three thematic tracks and in a variety of formats to highlight the diversity of opportunities that data science affords researchers.

6 Papers from CS Researchers Accepted to NAACL 2022

Researchers from the department presented natural language processing (NLP) papers at the 2022 Annual Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (NAACL 2022).

Selective Differential Privacy for Language Models
Weiyan Shi, Aiqi Cui, Evan Li, Ruoxi Jia, Zhou Yu

With the increasing applications of language models, it has become crucial to protect these models from leaking private information. Previous work has attempted to tackle this challenge by training RNN-based language models with differential privacy guarantees. However, applying classical differential privacy to language models leads to poor model performance as the underlying privacy notion is over-pessimistic and provides undifferentiated protection for all tokens in the data. Given that the private information in natural language is sparse (for example, the bulk of an email might not carry personally identifiable information), we propose a new privacy notion, selective differential privacy, to provide rigorous privacy guarantees on the sensitive portion of the data to improve model utility. To realize such a new notion, we develop a corresponding privacy mechanism, Selective-DPSGD, for RNN-based language models. Besides language modeling, we also apply the method to a more concrete application–dialog systems. Experiments on both language modeling and dialog system building show that the proposed privacy-preserving mechanism achieves better utilities while remaining safe under various privacy attacks compared to the baselines. The data and code are released at this HTTPS URL to facilitate future research.

Knowledge-Grounded Dialogue Generation with a Unified Knowledge Representation
Yu Li, Baolin Peng, Yelong Shen, Yi Mao, Lars Liden, Zhou Yu, Jianfeng Gao

Knowledge-grounded dialogue systems are challenging to build due to the lack of training data and heterogeneous knowledge sources. Existing systems perform poorly on unseen topics due to limited topics covered in the training data. In addition, heterogeneous knowledge sources make it challenging for systems to generalize to other tasks because knowledge sources in different knowledge representations require different knowledge encoders. To address these challenges, we present PLUG, a language model that homogenizes different knowledge sources to a unified knowledge representation for knowledge-grounded dialogue generation tasks. PLUG is pre-trained on a dialogue generation task conditioned on a unified essential knowledge representation. It can generalize to different downstream knowledge-grounded dialogue generation tasks with a few training examples. The empirical evaluation on two benchmarks shows that our model generalizes well across different knowledge-grounded tasks. It can achieve comparable performance with state-of-the-art methods under a fully-supervised setting and significantly outperforms other methods in zero-shot and few-shot settings.

Database Search Results Disambiguation for Task-Oriented Dialog Systems
Kun Qian, Ahmad Beirami, Satwik Kottur, Shahin Shayandeh, Paul Crook, Alborz Geramifard, Zhou Yu, Chinnadhurai Sankar

As task-oriented dialog systems are becoming increasingly popular in our lives, more realistic tasks have been proposed and explored. However, new practical challenges arise. For instance, current dialog systems cannot effectively handle multiple search results when querying a database, due to the lack of such scenarios in existing public datasets. In this paper, we propose Database Search Result (DSR) Disambiguation, a novel task that focuses on disambiguating database search results, which enhances user experience by allowing them to choose from multiple options instead of just one. To study this task, we augment the popular task-oriented dialog datasets (MultiWOZ and SGD) with turns that resolve ambiguities by (a) synthetically generating turns through a pre-defined grammar, and (b) collecting human paraphrases for a subset. We find that training on our augmented dialog data improves the model’s ability to deal with ambiguous scenarios, without sacrificing performance on unmodified turns. Furthermore, pre-fine tuning and multi-task learning help our model to improve performance on DSRdisambiguation even in the absence of indomain data, suggesting that it can be learned as a universal dialog skill. Our data and code will be made publicly available.

ErAConD: Error Annotated Conversational Dialog Dataset for Grammatical Error Correction
Xun Yuan, Sam Pham, Sam Davidson, Zhou Yu

Currently available grammatical error correction (GEC) datasets are compiled using well-formed written text, limiting the applicability of these datasets to other domains such as informal writing and dialog. In this paper, we present a novel parallel GEC dataset drawn from open-domain chatbot conversations; this dataset is, to our knowledge, the first GEC dataset targeted to a conversational setting. To demonstrate the utility of the dataset, we use our annotated data to fine-tune a state-of-the-art GEC model, resulting in a 16-point increase in model precision. This is of particular importance in a GEC model, as model precision is considered more important than recall in GEC tasks since false positives could lead to serious confusion in language learners. We also present a detailed annotation scheme which ranks errors by perceived impact on comprehensibility, making our dataset both reproducible and extensible. Experimental results show the effectiveness of our data in improving GEC model performance in conversational scenarios.

Improving Conversational Recommendation Systems’ Quality with Context-Aware Item Meta-Information
Bowen Yang, Cong Han, Yu Li, Lei Zuo, Zhou Yu

Conversational recommendation systems (CRS) engage with users by inferring user preferences from dialog history, providing accurate recommendations, and generating appropriate responses. Previous CRSs use knowledge graph (KG) based recommendation modules and integrate KG with language models for response generation. Although KG-based approaches prove effective, two issues remain to be solved. First, KG-based approaches ignore the information in the conversational context but only rely on entity relations and bag of words to recommend items. Second, it requires substantial engineering efforts to maintain KGs that model domain-specific relations, thus leading to less flexibility. In this paper, we propose a simple yet effective architecture comprising a pre-trained language model (PLM) and an item metadata encoder. The encoder learns to map item metadata to embeddings that can reflect the semantic information in the dialog context. The PLM then consumes the semantic-aligned item embeddings together with dialog context to generate high-quality recommendations and responses. Instead of modeling entity relations with KGs, our model reduces engineering complexity by directly converting each item to an embedding. Experimental results on the benchmark dataset ReDial show that our model obtains state-of-the-art results on both recommendation and response generation tasks.

Differentially private decoding in large language models
By Jimit Majmudar, Christophe Dupuy, Charith Peris, Sami Smaili, Rahul Gupta, Richard Zemel


Recent large-scale natural language processing (NLP) systems use a pre-trained Large Language Model (LLM) on massive and diverse corpora as a headstart. In practice, the pre-trained model is adapted to a wide array of tasks via fine-tuning on task-specific datasets. LLMs, while effective, have been shown to memorize instances of training data thereby potentially revealing private information processed during pre-training. The potential leakage might further propagate to the downstream tasks for which LLMs are fine-tuned. On the other hand, privacy-preserving algorithms usually involve retraining from scratch, which is prohibitively expensive for LLMs. In this work, we propose a simple, easy to interpret, and computationally lightweight perturbation mechanism to be applied to an already trained model at the decoding stage. Our perturbation mechanism is model-agnostic and can be used in conjunction with any LLM. We provide a theoretical analysis showing that the proposed mechanism is differentially private, and experimental results show a privacy-utility trade-off.

Three New Lustgarten-Whitney Fellows Named

Molecular biologist, pianist, and cognitive scientist/biologist will receive scholarship aid from a program that supports students from non-computational backgrounds applying computer science in a broad range of interdisciplinary areas.