Alexis Ross


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Reasoning or Reciting? Exploring the Capabilities and Limitations of Language Models Through Counterfactual Tasks
Zhaofeng Wu | Linlu Qiu | Alexis Ross | Ekin Akyürek | Boyuan Chen | Bailin Wang | Najoung Kim | Jacob Andreas | Yoon Kim
Proceedings of the 2024 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies (Volume 1: Long Papers)

The impressive performance of recent language models across a wide range of tasks suggests that they possess a degree of abstract reasoning skills. Are these skills general and transferable, or specialized to specific tasks seen during pretraining? To disentangle these effects, we propose an evaluation framework based on “counterfactual” task variants that deviate from the default assumptions underlying standard tasks. Across a suite of 11 tasks, we observe nontrivial performance on the counterfactual variants, but nevertheless find that performance substantially and consistently degrades compared to the default conditions. This suggests that while current LMs may possess abstract task-solving skills to an extent, they often also rely on narrow, non-transferable procedures for task-solving. These results motivate a more careful interpretation of language model performance that teases apart these aspects.


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CREST: A Joint Framework for Rationalization and Counterfactual Text Generation
Marcos Treviso | Alexis Ross | Nuno M. Guerreiro | André Martins
Proceedings of the 61st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers)

Selective rationales and counterfactual examples have emerged as two effective, complementary classes of interpretability methods for analyzing and training NLP models. However, prior work has not explored how these methods can be integrated to combine their complementary advantages. We overcome this limitation by introducing CREST (ContRastive Edits with Sparse raTionalization), a joint framework for selective rationalization and counterfactual text generation, and show that this framework leads to improvements in counterfactual quality, model robustness, and interpretability. First, CREST generates valid counterfactuals that are more natural than those produced by previous methods, and subsequently can be used for data augmentation at scale, reducing the need for human-generated examples. Second, we introduce a new loss function that leverages CREST counterfactuals to regularize selective rationales and show that this regularization improves both model robustness and rationale quality, compared to methods that do not leverage CREST counterfactuals. Our results demonstrate that CREST successfully bridges the gap between selective rationales and counterfactual examples, addressing the limitations of existing methods and providing a more comprehensive view of a model’s predictions.


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Does Self-Rationalization Improve Robustness to Spurious Correlations?
Alexis Ross | Matthew Peters | Ana Marasovic
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Rationalization is fundamental to human reasoning and learning. NLP models trained to produce rationales along with predictions, called self-rationalization models, have been investigated for their interpretability and utility to end-users. However, the extent to which training with human-written rationales facilitates learning remains an under-explored question. We ask whether training models to self-rationalize can aid in their learning to solve tasks for the right reasons. Specifically, we evaluate how training self-rationalization models with free-text rationales affects robustness to spurious correlations in fine-tuned encoder-decoder and decoder-only models of six different sizes. We evaluate robustness to spurious correlations by measuring performance on 1) manually annotated challenge datasets and 2) subsets of original test sets where reliance on spurious correlations would fail to produce correct answers. We find that while self-rationalization can improve robustness to spurious correlations in low-resource settings, it tends to hurt robustness in higher-resource settings. Furthermore, these effects depend on model family and size, as well as on rationale content. Together, our results suggest that explainability can come at the cost of robustness; thus, appropriate care should be taken when training self-rationalizing models with the goal of creating more trustworthy models.

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Tailor: Generating and Perturbing Text with Semantic Controls
Alexis Ross | Tongshuang Wu | Hao Peng | Matthew Peters | Matt Gardner
Proceedings of the 60th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers)

Controlled text perturbation is useful for evaluating and improving model generalizability. However, current techniques rely on training a model for every target perturbation, which is expensive and hard to generalize. We present Tailor, a semantically-controlled text generation system. Tailor builds on a pretrained seq2seq model and produces textual outputs conditioned on control codes derived from semantic representations. We craft a set of operations to modify the control codes, which in turn steer generation towards targeted attributes. These operations can be further composed into higher-level ones, allowing for flexible perturbation strategies. We demonstrate the effectiveness of these perturbations in multiple applications. First, we use Tailor to automatically create high-quality contrast sets for four distinct natural language processing (NLP) tasks. These contrast sets contain fewer spurious artifacts and are complementary to manually annotated ones in their lexical diversity. Second, we show that Tailor perturbations can improve model generalization through data augmentation. Perturbing just ∼2% of training data leads to a 5.8-point gain on an NLI challenge set measuring reliance on syntactic heuristics.


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Explaining NLP Models via Minimal Contrastive Editing (MiCE)
Alexis Ross | Ana Marasović | Matthew Peters
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: ACL-IJCNLP 2021

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Competency Problems: On Finding and Removing Artifacts in Language Data
Matt Gardner | William Merrill | Jesse Dodge | Matthew Peters | Alexis Ross | Sameer Singh | Noah A. Smith
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Much recent work in NLP has documented dataset artifacts, bias, and spurious correlations between input features and output labels. However, how to tell which features have “spurious” instead of legitimate correlations is typically left unspecified. In this work we argue that for complex language understanding tasks, all simple feature correlations are spurious, and we formalize this notion into a class of problems which we call competency problems. For example, the word “amazing” on its own should not give information about a sentiment label independent of the context in which it appears, which could include negation, metaphor, sarcasm, etc. We theoretically analyze the difficulty of creating data for competency problems when human bias is taken into account, showing that realistic datasets will increasingly deviate from competency problems as dataset size increases. This analysis gives us a simple statistical test for dataset artifacts, which we use to show more subtle biases than were described in prior work, including demonstrating that models are inappropriately affected by these less extreme biases. Our theoretical treatment of this problem also allows us to analyze proposed solutions, such as making local edits to dataset instances, and to give recommendations for future data collection and model design efforts that target competency problems.


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Probing What Different NLP Tasks Teach Machines about Function Word Comprehension
Najoung Kim | Roma Patel | Adam Poliak | Patrick Xia | Alex Wang | Tom McCoy | Ian Tenney | Alexis Ross | Tal Linzen | Benjamin Van Durme | Samuel R. Bowman | Ellie Pavlick
Proceedings of the Eighth Joint Conference on Lexical and Computational Semantics (*SEM 2019)

We introduce a set of nine challenge tasks that test for the understanding of function words. These tasks are created by structurally mutating sentences from existing datasets to target the comprehension of specific types of function words (e.g., prepositions, wh-words). Using these probing tasks, we explore the effects of various pretraining objectives for sentence encoders (e.g., language modeling, CCG supertagging and natural language inference (NLI)) on the learned representations. Our results show that pretraining on CCG—our most syntactic objective—performs the best on average across our probing tasks, suggesting that syntactic knowledge helps function word comprehension. Language modeling also shows strong performance, supporting its widespread use for pretraining state-of-the-art NLP models. Overall, no pretraining objective dominates across the board, and our function word probing tasks highlight several intuitive differences between pretraining objectives, e.g., that NLI helps the comprehension of negation.

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How well do NLI models capture verb veridicality?
Alexis Ross | Ellie Pavlick
Proceedings of the 2019 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and the 9th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (EMNLP-IJCNLP)

In natural language inference (NLI), contexts are considered veridical if they allow us to infer that their underlying propositions make true claims about the real world. We investigate whether a state-of-the-art natural language inference model (BERT) learns to make correct inferences about veridicality in verb-complement constructions. We introduce an NLI dataset for veridicality evaluation consisting of 1,500 sentence pairs, covering 137 unique verbs. We find that both human and model inferences generally follow theoretical patterns, but exhibit a systematic bias towards assuming that verbs are veridical–a bias which is amplified in BERT. We further show that, encouragingly, BERT’s inferences are sensitive not only to the presence of individual verb types, but also to the syntactic role of the verb, the form of the complement clause (to- vs. that-complements), and negation.