Albert Webson


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Are Language Models Worse than Humans at Following Prompts? It’s Complicated
Albert Webson | Alyssa Loo | Qinan Yu | Ellie Pavlick
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2023

Prompts have been the center of progress in advancing language models’ zero-shot and few-shot performance. However, recent work finds that models can perform surprisingly well when given intentionally irrelevant or misleading prompts. Such results may be interpreted as evidence that model behavior is not “human like’. In this study, we challenge a central assumption in such work: that humans would perform badly when given pathological instructions. We find that humans are able to reliably ignore irrelevant instructions and thus, like models, perform well on the underlying task despite an apparent lack of signal regarding the task they are being asked to do. However, when given deliberately misleading instructions, humans follow the instructions faithfully, whereas models do not. Thus, our conclusion is mixed with respect to prior work. We argue against the earlier claim that high performance with irrelevant prompts constitutes evidence against models’ instruction understanding, but we reinforce the claim that models’ failure to follow misleading instructions raises concerns. More broadly, we caution that future research should not idealize human behaviors as a monolith and should not train or evaluate models to mimic assumptions about these behaviors without first validating humans’ behaviors empirically.

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Crosslingual Generalization through Multitask Finetuning
Niklas Muennighoff | Thomas Wang | Lintang Sutawika | Adam Roberts | Stella Biderman | Teven Le Scao | M Saiful Bari | Sheng Shen | Zheng Xin Yong | Hailey Schoelkopf | Xiangru Tang | Dragomir Radev | Alham Fikri Aji | Khalid Almubarak | Samuel Albanie | Zaid Alyafeai | Albert Webson | Edward Raff | Colin Raffel
Proceedings of the 61st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers)

Multitask prompted finetuning (MTF) has been shown to help large language models generalize to new tasks in a zero-shot setting, but so far explorations of MTF have focused on English data and models. We apply MTF to the pretrained multilingual BLOOM and mT5 model families to produce finetuned variants called BLOOMZ and mT0. We find finetuning large multilingual language models on English tasks with English prompts allows for task genrealization to non-English languages that appear only in the pretraining corpus. Finetuning on multilingual tasks with English prompts further improves performance on English and non-English tasks leading to various state-of-the-art zero-shot results. We also investigate finetuning on multilingual tasks with prompts that have been machine-translated from English to match the language of each dataset. We find training on these machine-translated prompts leads to better performance on human-written prompts in the respective languages. Surprisingly, we find models are capable of zero-shot generalization to tasks in languages they have never intentionally seen. We conjecture that the models are learning higher-level capabilities that are both task- and language-agnostic. In addition, we introduce xP3, a composite of supervised datasets in 46 languages with English and machine-translated prompts. Our code, datasets and models are freely available at


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PromptSource: An Integrated Development Environment and Repository for Natural Language Prompts
Stephen Bach | Victor Sanh | Zheng Xin Yong | Albert Webson | Colin Raffel | Nihal V. Nayak | Abheesht Sharma | Taewoon Kim | M Saiful Bari | Thibault Fevry | Zaid Alyafeai | Manan Dey | Andrea Santilli | Zhiqing Sun | Srulik Ben-david | Canwen Xu | Gunjan Chhablani | Han Wang | Jason Fries | Maged Al-shaibani | Shanya Sharma | Urmish Thakker | Khalid Almubarak | Xiangru Tang | Dragomir Radev | Mike Tian-jian Jiang | Alexander Rush
Proceedings of the 60th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics: System Demonstrations

PromptSource is a system for creating, sharing, and using natural language prompts. Prompts are functions that map an example from a dataset to a natural language input and target output. Using prompts to train and query language models is an emerging area in NLP that requires new tools that let users develop and refine these prompts collaboratively. PromptSource addresses the emergent challenges in this new setting with (1) a templating language for defining data-linked prompts, (2) an interface that lets users quickly iterate on prompt development by observing outputs of their prompts on many examples, and (3) a community-driven set of guidelines for contributing new prompts to a common pool. Over 2,000 prompts for roughly 170 datasets are already available in PromptSource. PromptSource is available at

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Do Prompt-Based Models Really Understand the Meaning of Their Prompts?
Albert Webson | Ellie Pavlick
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies

Recently, a boom of papers has shown extraordinary progress in zero-shot and few-shot learning with various prompt-based models. It is commonly argued that prompts help models to learn faster in the same way that humans learn faster when provided with task instructions expressed in natural language. In this study, we experiment with over 30 prompts manually written for natural language inference (NLI). We find that models can learn just as fast with many prompts that are intentionally irrelevant or even pathologically misleading as they do with instructively “good” prompts. Further, such patterns hold even for models as large as 175 billion parameters (Brown et al., 2020) as well as the recently proposed instruction-tuned models which are trained on hundreds of prompts (Sanh et al., 2021). That is, instruction-tuned models often produce good predictions with irrelevant and misleading prompts even at zero shots. In sum, notwithstanding prompt-based models’ impressive improvement, we find evidence of serious limitations that question the degree to which such improvement is derived from models understanding task instructions in ways analogous to humans’ use of task instructions.


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Are “Undocumented Workers” the Same as “Illegal Aliens”? Disentangling Denotation and Connotation in Vector Spaces
Albert Webson | Zhizhong Chen | Carsten Eickhoff | Ellie Pavlick
Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP)

In politics, neologisms are frequently invented for partisan objectives. For example, “undocumented workers” and “illegal aliens” refer to the same group of people (i.e., they have the same denotation), but they carry clearly different connotations. Examples like these have traditionally posed a challenge to reference-based semantic theories and led to increasing acceptance of alternative theories (e.g., Two-Factor Semantics) among philosophers and cognitive scientists. In NLP, however, popular pretrained models encode both denotation and connotation as one entangled representation. In this study, we propose an adversarial nerual netowrk that decomposes a pretrained representation as independent denotation and connotation representations. For intrinsic interpretability, we show that words with the same denotation but different connotations (e.g., “immigrants” vs. “aliens”, “estate tax” vs. “death tax”) move closer to each other in denotation space while moving further apart in connotation space. For extrinsic application, we train an information retrieval system with our disentangled representations and show that the denotation vectors improve the viewpoint diversity of document rankings.