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.
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.
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.
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.