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.

Research from the NLP & Speech Group Accepted to ACL 2022

CS researchers presented their work at the 60th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL 2022).

Faithful or Extractive? On Mitigating the Faithfulness-Abstractiveness Trade-off in Abstractive Summarization
Faisal Ladhak Columbia University, Esin Durmus Stanford University, He He New York University, Claire Cardie Cornell University, Kathleen McKeown Columbia University

Despite recent progress in abstractive summarization, systems still suffer from faithfulness errors. While prior work has proposed models that improve faithfulness, it is unclear whether the improvement comes from an increased level of extractiveness of the model outputs as one naive way to improve faithfulness is to make summarization models more extractive. In this work, we present a framework for evaluating the effective faithfulness of summarization systems, by generating a faithfulness-abstractiveness trade-off curve that serves as a control at different operating points on the abstractiveness spectrum. We then show that the baseline system as well as recently proposed methods for improving faithfulness, fail to consistently improve over the control at the same level of abstractiveness.

Finally, we learn a selector to identify the most faithful and abstractive summary for a given document, and show that this system can attain higher faithfulness scores in human evaluations while being more abstractive than the baseline system on two datasets. Moreover, we show that our system is able to achieve a better faithfulness-abstractiveness trade-off than the control at the same level of abstractiveness.

Towards Learning (Dis)-Similarity of Source Code from Program Contrasts
Yangruibo Ding Columbia University, Luca Buratti IBM Research, Saurabh Pujar IBM Research, Alessandro Morari IBM Research, Baishakhi Ray Columbia University, and Saikat Chakraborty Columbia University

Understanding the functional (dis)-similarity of source code is significant for code modeling tasks such as software vulnerability and code clone detection. We present DISCO (DISsimilarity of COde), a novel self-supervised model focusing on identifying (dis)similar functionalities of source code. Different from existing works, our approach does not require a huge amount of randomly collected datasets. Rather, we design structure-guided code transformation algorithms to generate synthetic code clones and inject real-world security bugs, augmenting the collected datasets in a targeted way.

We propose to pre-train the Transformer model with such automatically generated program contrasts to better identify similar code in the wild and differentiate vulnerable programs from benign ones. To better capture the structural features of source code, we propose a new cloze objective to encode the local tree-based context (e.g., parents or sibling nodes). We pre-train our model with a much smaller dataset, the size of which is only 5% of the state-of-the-art models’ training datasets, to illustrate the effectiveness of our data augmentation and the pre-training approach. The evaluation shows that, even with much less data, DISCO can still outperform the state-of-the-art models in vulnerability and code clone detection tasks.

Fantastic Questions and Where to Find Them: FairytaleQA — An Authentic Dataset for Narrative Comprehension
Ying Xu University of California Irvine, Dakuo Wang IBM Research, Mo Yu WeChat AI/Tencent, Daniel Ritchie University of California Irvine, Bingsheng Yao Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Tongshuang Wu University of Washington, Zheng Zhang University of Notre Dame, Toby Jia-Jun Li University of Notre Dame, Nora Bradford University of California Irvine, Branda Sun University of California Irvine, Tran Bao Hoang University of California Irvine, Yisi Sang Syracuse University, Yufang Hou IBM Research Ireland, Xiaojuan Ma Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Diyi Yang Georgia Institute of Technology, Nanyun Peng University of California Los Angeles, Zhou Yu Columbia University, Mark Warschauer University of California Irvine

Question answering (QA) is a fundamental means to facilitate the assessment and training of narrative comprehension skills for both machines and young children, yet there is scarcity of high-quality QA datasets carefully designed to serve this purpose. In particular, existing datasets rarely distinguish fine-grained reading skills, such as the understanding of varying narrative elements. Drawing on the reading education research, we introduce FairytaleQA1, a dataset focusing on the narrative comprehension of kindergarten to eighth-grade students.

Generated by educational experts based on an evidence-based theoretical framework, FairytaleQA consists of 10,580 explicit and implicit questions derived from 278 children-friendly stories, covering seven types of narrative elements or relations. Our dataset is valuable in two folds: First, we ran existing QA models on our dataset and confirmed that this annotation helps assess models’ fine-grained learning skills. Second, the dataset supports question generation (QG) task in the education domain. Through benchmarking with QG models, we show that the QG model trained on FairytaleQA is capable of asking high-quality and more diverse questions.

Effective Unsupervised Constrained Text Generation based on Perturbed Masking
Yingwen Fu Guangdong University of Foreign Studies/NetEase Games AI Lab, Wenjie Ou NetEase Games AI Lab, Zhou Yu Columbia University, Yue Lin NetEase Games AI Lab

Unsupervised constrained text generation aims to generate text under a given set of constraints without any supervised data. Current state-of-the-art methods stochastically sample edit positions and actions, which may cause unnecessary search steps.

In this paper, we propose PMCTG to improve effectiveness by searching for the best edit position and action in each step. Specifically, PMCTG extends perturbed masking technique to effectively search for the most incongruent token to edit. Then it introduces four multi-aspect scoring functions to select edit action to further reduce search difficulty. Since PMCTG does not require supervised data, it could be applied to different generation tasks. We show that under the unsupervised setting, PMCTG achieves new state-of-the-art results in two representative tasks, namely keywords-to-sentence generation and paraphrasing.

11 Research Papers Accepted to EMNLP 2021

Papers from CS researchers were accepted to the Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP) 2021. The Best Short Paper Award was also awarded to a paper from the Spoken Language
Processing Group.

Best Short Paper Award
CHoRaL: Collecting Humor Reaction Labels from Millions of Social Media Users
Zixiaofan Yang, Shayan Hooshmand and Julia Hirschberg


Humor detection has gained attention in recent years due to the desire to understand user-generated content with figurative language. However, substantial individual and cultural differences in humor perception make it very difficult to collect a large-scale humor dataset with reliable humor labels. We propose CHoRaL, a framework to generate perceived humor labels on Facebook posts, using the naturally available user reactions to these posts with no manual annotation needed. CHoRaL provides both binary labels and continuous scores of humor and non-humor. We present the largest dataset to date with labeled humor on 785K posts related to COVID-19. Additionally, we analyze the expression of COVID-related humor in social media by extracting lexico-semantic and affective features from the posts, and build humor detection models with performance similar to humans. CHoRaL enables the development of large-scale humor detection models on any topic and opens a new path to the study of humor on social media.


A Bag of Tricks for Dialogue Summarization
Muhammad Khalifa, Miguel Ballesteros and Kathleen McKeown


Dialogue summarization comes with its own peculiar challenges as opposed to news or scientific articles summarization. In this work, we explore four different challenges of the task: handling and differentiating parts of the dialogue belonging to multiple speakers, negation understanding, reasoning about the situation, and informal language understanding. Using a pretrained sequence-to-sequence language model, we explore speaker name substitution, negation scope highlighting, multi-task learning with relevant tasks, and pretraining on in-domain data. Our experiments show that our proposed techniques indeed improve summarization performance, outperforming strong baselines.


Timeline Summarization based on Event Graph Compression via Time-Aware Optimal Transport
Manling Li, Tengfei Ma, Mo Yu, Lingfei Wu, Tian Gao, Heng Ji and Kathleen McKeown


Timeline Summarization identifies major events from a news collection and describes them following temporal order, with key dates tagged. Previous methods generally generate summaries separately for each date after they determine the key dates of events. These methods overlook the events’ intra-structures (arguments) and inter-structures (event-event connections). Following a different route, we propose to represent the news articles as an event-graph, thus the summarization task becomes compressing the whole graph to its salient sub-graph. The key hypothesis is that the events connected through shared arguments and temporal order depict the skeleton of a timeline, containing events that are semantically related, structurally salient, and temporally coherent in the global event graph. A time-aware optimal transport distance is then introduced for learning the compression model in an unsupervised manner. We show that our approach significantly improves the state of the art on three real-world datasets, including two public standard benchmarks and our newly collected Timeline100 dataset.


Don’t Go Far Off: An Empirical Study on Neural Poetry Translation
Tuhin Chakrabarty, Arkadiy Saakyan and Smaranda Muresan


Despite constant improvements in machine translation quality, automatic poetry translation remains a challenging problem due to the lack of open-sourced parallel poetic corpora, and to the intrinsic complexities involved in preserving the semantics, style and figurative nature of poetry. We present an empirical investigation for poetry translation along several dimensions: 1) size and style of training data (poetic vs. non-poetic), including a zeroshot setup; 2) bilingual vs. multilingual learning; and 3) language-family-specific models vs. mixed-language-family models. To accomplish this, we contribute a parallel dataset of poetry translations for several language pairs. Our results show that multilingual fine-tuning on poetic text significantly outperforms multilingual fine-tuning on non-poetic text that is 35X larger in size, both in terms of automatic metrics (BLEU, BERTScore, COMET) and human evaluation metrics such as faithfulness (meaning and poetic style). Moreover, multilingual fine-tuning on poetic data outperforms bilingual fine-tuning on poetic data.


Implicit Premise Generation with Discourse-aware Commonsense Knowledge Models
Tuhin Chakrabarty, Aadit Trivedi and Smaranda Muresan


Enthymemes are defined as arguments where a premise or conclusion is left implicit. We tackle the task of generating the implicit premise in an enthymeme, which requires not only an understanding of the stated conclusion and premise, but also additional inferences that could depend on commonsense knowledge. The largest available dataset for enthymemes (Habernal et al., 2018) consists of 1.7k samples, which is not large enough to train a neural text generation model. To address this issue, we take advantage of a similar task and dataset: Abductive reasoning in narrative text (Bhagavatula et al., 2020). However, we show that simply using a state-of-the-art seq2seq model fine-tuned on this data might not generate meaningful implicit premises associated with the given enthymemes. We demonstrate that encoding discourse-aware commonsense during fine-tuning improves the quality of the generated implicit premises and outperforms all other baselines both in automatic and human evaluations on three different datasets.


GOLD: Improving Out-of-Scope Detection in Dialogues using Data Augmentation
Derek Chen and Zhou Yu


Practical dialogue systems require robust methods of detecting out-of-scope (OOS) utterances to avoid conversational breakdowns and related failure modes. Directly training a model with labeled OOS examples yields reasonable performance, but obtaining such data is a resource-intensive process. To tackle this limited-data problem, previous methods focus on better modeling the distribution of in-scope (INS) examples. We introduce GOLD as an orthogonal technique that augments existing data to train better OOS detectors operating in low-data regimes. GOLD generates pseudo-labeled candidates using samples from an auxiliary dataset and keeps only the most beneficial candidates for training through a novel filtering mechanism. In experiments across three target benchmarks, the top GOLD model outperforms all existing methods on all key metrics, achieving relative gains of 52.4%, 48.9% and 50.3% against median baseline performance. We also analyze the unique properties of OOS data to identify key factors for optimally applying our proposed method.


Continual Learning in Task-Oriented Dialogue Systems
Andrea Madotto, Zhaojiang Lin, Zhenpeng Zhou, Seungwhan Moon, Paul Crook, Bing Liu, Zhou Yu, Eunjoon Cho, Pascale Fung, and Zhiguang Wang


Continual learning in task-oriented dialogue systems can allow us to add new domains and functionalities through time without incurring the high cost of a whole system retraining. In this paper, we propose a continual learning benchmark for task-oriented dialogue systems with 37 domains to be learned continuously in four settings, such as intent recognition, state tracking, natural language generation, and end-to-end. Moreover, we implement and compare multiple existing continual learning baselines, and we propose a simple yet effective architectural method based on residual adapters. Our experiments demonstrate that the proposed architectural method and a simple replay-based strategy perform comparably well but they both achieve inferior performance to the multi-task learning baseline, in where all the data are shown at once, showing that continual learning in task-oriented dialogue systems is a challenging task. Furthermore, we reveal several trade-off between different continual learning methods in term of parameter usage and memory size, which are important in the design of a task-oriented dialogue system. The proposed benchmark is released together with several baselines to promote more research in this direction.


Zero-Shot Dialogue State Tracking via Cross-Task Transfer
Zhaojiang Lin, Bing Liu, Andrea Madotto, Seungwhan Moon, Zhenpeng Zhou, Paul Crook, Zhiguang Wang, Zhou Yu, Eunjoon Cho, Rajen Subba, and Pascale Fung


Zero-shot transfer learning for dialogue state tracking (DST) enables us to handle a variety of task-oriented dialogue domains without the expense of collecting in-domain data. In this work, we propose to transfer the crosstask knowledge from general question answering (QA) corpora for the zero-shot DST task. Specifically, we propose TransferQA, a transferable generative QA model that seamlessly combines extractive QA and multichoice QA via a text-to-text transformer framework, and tracks both categorical slots and non-categorical slots in DST. In addition, we introduce two effective ways to construct unanswerable questions, namely, negative question sampling and context truncation, which enable our model to handle “none” value slots in the zero-shot DST setting. The extensive experiments show that our approaches substantially improve the existing zero-shot and few-shot results on MultiWoz. Moreover, compared to the fully trained baseline on the Schema-Guided Dialogue dataset, our approach shows better generalization ability in unseen domains.Zero-shot transfer learning for dialogue state tracking (DST) enables us to handle a variety of task-oriented dialogue domains without the expense of collecting in-domain data. In this work, we propose to transfer the crosstask knowledge from general question answering (QA) corpora for the zero-shot DST task. Specifically, we propose TransferQA, a transferable generative QA model that seamlessly combines extractive QA and multichoice QA via a text-to-text transformer framework, and tracks both categorical slots and non-categorical slots in DST. In addition, we introduce two effective ways to construct unanswerable questions, namely, negative question sampling and context truncation, which enable our model to handle “none” value slots in the zero-shot DST setting. The extensive experiments show that our approaches substantially improve the existing zero-shot and few-shot results on MultiWoz. Moreover, compared to the fully trained baseline on the Schema-Guided Dialogue dataset, our approach shows better generalization ability in unseen domains.


Refine and Imitate: Reducing Repetition and Inconsistency in Persuasion Dialogues via Reinforcement Learning and Human Demonstration
Weiyan Shi, Yu Li, Saurav Sahay, and Zhou Yu


Despite the recent success of large-scale language models on various downstream NLP tasks, the repetition and inconsistency problems still persist in dialogue response generation. Previous approaches have attempted to avoid repetition by penalizing the language model’s undesirable behaviors in the loss function. However, these methods focus on tokenlevel information and can lead to incoherent responses and uninterpretable behaviors. To alleviate these issues, we propose to apply reinforcement learning to refine an MLE-based language model without user simulators, and distill sentence-level information about repetition, inconsistency and task relevance through rewards. In addition, to better accomplish the dialogue task, the model learns from human demonstration to imitate intellectual activities such as persuasion, and selects the most persuasive responses. Experiments show that our model outperforms previous state-of-the-art dialogue models on both automatic metrics and human evaluation results on a donation persuasion task, and generates more diverse, consistent and persuasive conversations according to the user feedback.


Attribute Alignment: Controlling Text Generation from Pre-trained Language Models
Dian Yu, Zhou Yu, and Kenji Sagae


Large language models benefit from training with a large amount of unlabeled text, which gives them increasingly fluent and diverse generation capabilities. However, using these models for text generation that takes into account target attributes, such as sentiment polarity or specific topics, remains a challenge. We propose a simple and flexible method for controlling text generation by aligning disentangled attribute representations. In contrast to recent efforts on training a discriminator to perturb the token level distribution for an attribute, we use the same data to learn an alignment function to guide the pre-trained, non-controlled language model to generate texts with the target attribute without changing the original language model parameters. We evaluate our method on sentiment- and topiccontrolled generation, and show large performance gains over previous methods while retaining fluency and diversity.


KERS: A Knowledge-Enhanced Framework for Recommendation Dialog Systems with Multiple Subgoals
Jun Zhang, Yan Yang, Chencai Chen, Liang He, and Zhou Yu


Recommendation dialogs require the system to build a social bond with users to gain trust and develop affinity in order to increase the chance of a successful recommendation. It is beneficial to divide up, such conversations with multiple subgoals (such as social chat, question answering, recommendation, etc.), so that the system can retrieve appropriate knowledge with better accuracy under different subgoals. In this paper, we propose a unified framework for common knowledge-based multi-subgoal dialog: knowledge-enhanced multi-subgoal driven recommender system (KERS). We first predict a sequence of subgoals and use them to guide the dialog model to select knowledge from a sub-set of existing knowledge graph. We then propose three new mechanisms to filter noisy knowledge and to enhance the inclusion of cleaned knowledge in the dialog response generation process. Experiments show that our method obtains state-of-the-art results on DuRecDial dataset in both automatic and human evaluation.

Heroes of Natural Language Processing

Professor Kathy McKeown talks with DeepLearning.AI’s Andrew Ng about how she started in artificial intelligence (AI), her research projects, how her understanding of AI has changed through the decades, and AI career advice for learners of NLP. 

Research That Studied Data From Social Media, Automatic Summarization, and Spatial Relations Accepted to NAACL 2019

The annual conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (NAACL) is the preeminent event in the field of natural language processing. CS researchers in professor Julia Hirschberg’s group won a Best Paper award for a novel resource, SpatialNet, which provides a formal representation of how a language expresses spatial relations. Other accepted papers are detailed below.

Linguistic Analysis of Schizophrenia in Reddit Posts
Jonathan Zomick Hofstra University, Sarah Ita Levitan Columbia University, Mark Serper Hofstra University Mount Sinai School of Medicine

The paper was presented at the Sixth Annual Workshop on Computational Linguistics and Clinical Psychology, at NAACL.

The researchers identified and analyzed unique linguistic characteristics of Reddit posts written by users who claim to have received a diagnosis for schizophrenia. The findings were interpreted in the context of established schizophrenia symptoms and compared with results from previous research that has looked at schizophrenia and language on social media platforms.  

The results showed several differences in language usage between users with schizophrenia and a control group. For example, people with schizophrenia used less punctuation in their Reddit posts. Disorganized language use is a prominent and common symptom of schizophrenia.

A machine learning classifier was trained to automatically identify self-identified users with schizophrenia on Reddit, using linguistic cues.  

“We hope that this work contributes toward the ultimate goal of identifying high risk individuals,” said Sara Ita Levitan, a postdoctoral research scientist with the Spoken Language Processing Group. “Early intervention and diagnosis is important to improve overall treatment outcomes for schizophrenia.”

Fixed That for You: Generating Contrastive Claims with Semantic Edits
Christopher Hidey Columbia University and Kathy McKeown Columbia University

For many people, social media is a primary source of information and it can become a key venue for opinionated discussion. In order to evaluate and analyze these discussions, it is important to understand contrast or a difference in opinions.

As a step towards a better understanding of arguments, the researchers developed a method to automatically generate responses to internet comments containing differences in stance. They created a corpus from over one million contrastive claims mined from the social media site Reddit. In order to obtain training data for the models, they extracted pairs of comments containing the acronym FTFY (“fixed that for you”).  

For example, in a discussion over who should be the next President of the United States, one participant might state “Bernie Sanders for president” and another might state “Hillary Clinton for president. FTFY”

A neural network model was trained on the pairs to edit the original claim and produce a new claim with a different view. 

Claim : Bernie Sanders for president
New claim : Hillary Clinton for president.

“One aspect of this problem that was surprising was that the standard ‘sequence-to-sequence with attention’ baseline performed poorly, often just copying the output or selecting generic responses,” said Christopher Hidey, a fourth year PhD student. While generic response generation is a known problem in neural models, their custom model significantly outperformed this baseline in several metrics including novelty and overlap with human-generated responses.

A Robust Abstractive System for Cross-Lingual Summarization
Jessica Ouyang Columbia University, Boya Song Columbia University, and Kathy McKeown Columbia University

The researchers developed an automatic summarization system that specializes in producing English summaries for documents originally written in three low-resource languages – Somali, Swahili, and Tagalog.

There is little natural language processing work done in low-resource languages and machine translation systems for those languages are of lower quality than those for high-resource languages like French or German.

As a result, the translations are often disfluent and contain errors that make them difficult for a human to understand, much less for a summarization system to process.

An example of machine-translated document
originally written in Swahili :

Mange Kimambi ‘I pray for the parliamentary seat for Kinondoni
constituency for ticket of CCM. Not special seats’ Kinondoni
without drugs is possible I pray for the parliamentary seat for
Kinondoni constituency on the ticket of CCM. Yes, it’s not a
special seats, Khuini Kinondoni, what will I do for Kinondoni?
Tension is many I get but we must remember no good that is
available easily. Kinondoni without drugs is possible. As a friend,
fan or patriotism I urge you to grant your contribution to the
situation and propert. You can use Western Union or money to go
to Mange John Kimambi. Account of CRDB Bank is on blog. Reduce
my profile in my blog understand why I have decided to vie for
Kinondoni constituency. you will understand more.

A standard summarization system’s
output on the document :

Mange Kimambi, who pray for parliamentary seat for Kinondoni
constituency for ticket of CCM, is on blog, and not special seats’
Kinondoni without drugs.

The robust summarization system’s output
on the document :

Mange Kimambi, who pray for parliamentary seat for Kinondoni
constituency for ticket of CCM, comments on his plans to vie for
‘Kinondoni’ without drugs.

“We addressed this challenge by creating large collections of synthetic, errorful “translations” that mimic the output of low-quality machine translations,” said Jessica Ouyang, a seventh year PhD student. They paired the problematic text with high-quality, human-written summaries. The experiment showed that a neural network summarizer trained on this synthetic data was able to correct or elide translation errors and produce fluent English summaries. The error-correcting ability of the system extends to Arabic, a new language previously unseen by the system.

IMHO Fine-Tuning Improves Claim Detection
Tuhin Chakrabarty Columbia University, Christopher Hidey Columbia University, and Kathy McKeown Columbia University

Argument mining, or argumentation mining, is a research area within the natural language processing field. Argument mining is applied in many different genres including the qualitative assessment of social media content (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) – where it provides a powerful tool for policy-makers and researchers in social and political sciences – legal documents, product reviews, scientific articles, online debates, newspaper articles, and dialogical domains. One of the main tasks of argument mining is to detect a claim.

Sentences from each dataset and their nearest neighbor in the IMHO dataset

Claims are the central component of an argument. Detecting claims across different domains or data sets can often be challenging due to their varying conceptualization. The researchers set out to alleviate this problem by fine-tuning a language model. They created a corpus mined from Reddit that is composed of 5.5 million opinionated claims. These claims are self-labeled by their authors using the internet acronyms IMO/IMHO or “In My Humble Opinion”.

By fine-tuning the language on the IMHO dataset they were able to obtain a significant improvement on claim detection of the datasets. As these data sets include diverse domains such as social media and student essays, this improvement demonstrates the robustness of fine-tuning on this novel corpus.

The Answer is Language Model Fine-tuning
Tuhin Chakrabarty Columbia University and Smaranda Muresan Columbia University

Community Question Answering forums such as Yahoo! Answers and Quora are popular nowadays, as they represent effective means for communities to share information around particular topics. But the information often shared on these forums may be incorrect or misleading.

The paper presents the ColumbiaNLP submission for the SemEval-2019 Task 8: Fact-Checking in Community Question Answering Forums. The researchers show how fine-tuning a language model on a large unannotated corpus of old threads from the Qatar Living forum helps to classify question types (factual, opinion, socializing) and to judge the factuality of answers on the shared task labeled data from the same forum. Their system finished 4th and 2nd on Subtask A (question type classification) and B (answer factuality prediction), respectively, based on the official metric of accuracy.

Question classification
Factual : The question is asking for factual information,
which can be answered by checking various information
sources, and it is not ambiguous.
e.g. “What is Ooredoo customer service number?”
Opinion : The question asks for an opinion or advice,
not for a fact.
e.g. “Can anyone recommend a good Vet in Doha?”
Socializing : Not a real question, but intended for
socializing or for chatting. This can also mean expressing
an opinion or sharing some information, without really
asking anything of general interest.
e.g. “What was your first car?”

Answer classification
Factual – TRUE : The answer is True and can be proven
with an external resource.
Q : “I wanted to know if there were any specific shots and
vaccinations I should get before coming over [to Doha].”
A : “Yes there are; though it varies depending on which
country you come from. In the UK; the doctor has a list of
all countries and the vaccinations needed for each.”
Factual – FALSE : The answer gives a factual response, but
it is False, it is partially false or the responder is unsure about
Q : “Can I bring my pitbulls to Qatar?”
A : “Yes, you can bring it but be careful this kind of dog is
very dangerous.”
Non-Factual : When the answer does not provide factual
information to the question; it can be an opinion or an advice
that cannot be verified
e.g. “It’s better to buy a new one.”

“We show that fine-tuning a language model on a large unsupervised corpus from the same community forum helps us achieve better accuracy for question classification,” said Tuhin Chakrabarty, lead researcher of the paper. Most community question-answering forums have such unlabeled data, which can be used in the absence of large labeled training data.

For answer classification they show how to leverage information from previously answered questions on the thread through language model fine-tuning. Their experiments also show that modeling an answer individually is not the best idea for fact-verification and results are improved when considering the context of the question.

“Determining factuality of answers requires modeling of world knowledge or external evidence – the questions asked are often very noisy and require reformulation,” shared Chakrabarty. “As a future step we would want to incorporate external evidence from the internet in the factual answer classification problem.”

Identifying Therapist Conversational Actions Across Diverse Psychotherapeutic Approaches
Fei-Tzin Lee Columbia University, Derrick Hull Talkspace, Jacob Levine Talkspace, Bonnie Ray Talkspace and Kathleen McKeown Columbia University

The paper studied dialogue act classification in therapy transcripts. Dialogue act classification is a task in which the researchers attempt to determine the intention of the speaker at each point in a dialogue, classifying it into one of a fixed number of possible types. This provides a layer of abstraction away from what the speaker is literally saying, giving a higher-level view of the conversation. Ultimately, they hope this work can help analyze the dynamics of text-based therapy on a large scale.
Transcripts of therapy sessions were examined, focusing on the speech of the therapist, using a classification scheme developed for this purpose. On a sentence-by-sentence basis, they found which of the labels best matches the conversational “action” the sentence takes.
For example, if a therapist makes the statement, “It almost feels like if you could do something, anything would be better than…” This would be classified into the Reflection category, as it is rephrasing or restating the experience the client just described, but in a way that makes what they are feeling more explicit.
“One of the interesting results from this research came when we analyzed the performance of our best classifier across different styles of therapy,” said Fei-Tzin Lee, a third year PhD student. Certain styles were markedly easier to classify than others; this was not simply a case where the classifier performed better on therapeutic styles for which there was more data.
Generally, it seemed that therapy styles involving more complex sentence structure were more difficult to classify, although to fully understand the differences between styles further work would be necessary. Continued Lee, “Regardless of the reason, it was interesting to note that there are marked differences that are quantitatively measurable between different styles.”