Alexander Wettig


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Should You Mask 15% in Masked Language Modeling?
Alexander Wettig | Tianyu Gao | Zexuan Zhong | Danqi Chen
Proceedings of the 17th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics

Masked language models (MLMs) conventionally mask 15% of tokens due to the belief that more masking would leave insufficient context to learn good representations; this masking rate has been widely used, regardless of model sizes or masking strategies. In this work, we revisit this important choice of MLM pre-training. We first establish that 15% is not universally optimal, and larger models should adopt a higher masking rate. Specifically, we find that masking 40% outperforms 15% for BERT-large size models on GLUE and SQuAD. Interestingly, an extremely high masking rate of 80% can still preserve 95% fine-tuning performance and most of the accuracy in linguistic probing, challenging the conventional wisdom about the role of the masking rate. We then examine the interplay between masking rates and masking strategies and find that uniform masking requires a higher masking rate compared to sophisticated masking strategies such as span or PMI masking. Finally, we argue that increasing the masking rate has two distinct effects: it leads to more corruption, which makes the prediction task more difficult; it also enables more predictions, which benefits optimization. Using this framework, we revisit BERT’s 80-10-10 corruption strategy. Together, our results contribute to a better understanding of MLM pre-training.

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Adapting Language Models to Compress Contexts
Alexis Chevalier | Alexander Wettig | Anirudh Ajith | Danqi Chen
Proceedings of the 2023 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Transformer-based language models (LMs) are powerful and widely-applicable tools, but their usefulness is constrained by a finite context window and the expensive computational cost of processing long text documents. We propose to adapt pre-trained LMs into AutoCompressors. These language models are capable of compressing long contexts into summary vectors, which are then accessible to the model as soft prompts. Summary vectors are trained with an unsupervised objective, whereby long documents are processed in segments, and summary vectors from all previous segments are used in language modeling. We fine-tune OPT and Llama-2 models on sequences of up to 30,720 tokens and show that AutoCompressors can utilize long contexts to improve perplexity. We evaluate AutoCompressors on in-context learning by compressing task demonstrations and find that summary vectors are good substitutes for plain-text demonstrations, increasing accuracy while reducing inference costs. Finally, we explore the benefits of pre-computing summary vectors for large corpora by applying summary vectors to retrieval-augmented language modeling and a passage re-ranking task. Overall, AutoCompressors emerge as a simple and inexpensive solution to extend the context window of LMs while speeding up inference over long contexts.

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Poisoning Retrieval Corpora by Injecting Adversarial Passages
Zexuan Zhong | Ziqing Huang | Alexander Wettig | Danqi Chen
Proceedings of the 2023 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Dense retrievers have achieved state-of-the-art performance in various information retrieval tasks, but to what extent can they be safely deployed in real-world applications? In this work, we propose a novel attack for dense retrieval systems in which a malicious user generates a small number of adversarial passages by perturbing discrete tokens to maximize similarity with a provided set of training queries. When these adversarial passages are inserted into a large retrieval corpus, we show that this attack is highly effective in fooling these systems to retrieve them for queries that were not seen by the attacker. More surprisingly, these adversarial passages can directly generalize to out-of-domain queries and corpora with a high success attack rate — for instance, we find that 50 generated passages optimized on Natural Questions can mislead >94% of questions posed in financial documents or online forums. We also benchmark and compare a range of state-of-the-art dense retrievers, both unsupervised and supervised. Although different systems exhibit varying levels of vulnerability, we show they can all be successfully attacked by injecting up to 500 passages, a small fraction compared to a retrieval corpus of millions of passages.


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Finding Dataset Shortcuts with Grammar Induction
Dan Friedman | Alexander Wettig | Danqi Chen
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Many NLP datasets have been found to contain shortcuts: simple decision rules that achieve surprisingly high accuracy. However, it is difficult to discover shortcuts automatically. Prior work on automatic shortcut detection has focused on enumerating features like unigrams or bigrams, which can find only low-level shortcuts, or relied on post-hoc model interpretability methods like saliency maps, which reveal qualitative patterns without a clear statistical interpretation. In this work, we propose to use probabilistic grammars to characterize and discover shortcuts in NLP datasets. Specifically, we use a context-free grammar to model patterns in sentence classification datasets and use a synchronous context-free grammar to model datasets involving sentence pairs. The resulting grammars reveal interesting shortcut features in a number of datasets, including both simple and high-level features, and automatically identify groups of test examples on which conventional classifiers fail. Finally, we show that the features we discover can be used to generate diagnostic contrast examples and incorporated into standard robust optimization methods to improve worst-group accuracy.


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Phrase Retrieval Learns Passage Retrieval, Too
Jinhyuk Lee | Alexander Wettig | Danqi Chen
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Dense retrieval methods have shown great promise over sparse retrieval methods in a range of NLP problems. Among them, dense phrase retrieval—the most fine-grained retrieval unit—is appealing because phrases can be directly used as the output for question answering and slot filling tasks. In this work, we follow the intuition that retrieving phrases naturally entails retrieving larger text blocks and study whether phrase retrieval can serve as the basis for coarse-level retrieval including passages and documents. We first observe that a dense phrase-retrieval system, without any retraining, already achieves better passage retrieval accuracy (+3-5% in top-5 accuracy) compared to passage retrievers, which also helps achieve superior end-to-end QA performance with fewer passages. Then, we provide an interpretation for why phrase-level supervision helps learn better fine-grained entailment compared to passage-level supervision, and also show that phrase retrieval can be improved to achieve competitive performance in document-retrieval tasks such as entity linking and knowledge-grounded dialogue. Finally, we demonstrate how phrase filtering and vector quantization can reduce the size of our index by 4-10x, making dense phrase retrieval a practical and versatile solution in multi-granularity retrieval.