Keyon Vafa


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Rationales for Sequential Predictions
Keyon Vafa | Yuntian Deng | David Blei | Alexander Rush
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Sequence models are a critical component of modern NLP systems, but their predictions are difficult to explain. We consider model explanations though rationales, subsets of context that can explain individual model predictions. We find sequential rationales by solving a combinatorial optimization: the best rationale is the smallest subset of input tokens that would predict the same output as the full sequence. Enumerating all subsets is intractable, so we propose an efficient greedy algorithm to approximate this objective. The algorithm, which is called greedy rationalization, applies to any model. For this approach to be effective, the model should form compatible conditional distributions when making predictions on incomplete subsets of the context. This condition can be enforced with a short fine-tuning step. We study greedy rationalization on language modeling and machine translation. Compared to existing baselines, greedy rationalization is best at optimizing the sequential objective and provides the most faithful rationales. On a new dataset of annotated sequential rationales, greedy rationales are most similar to human rationales.


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Text-Based Ideal Points
Keyon Vafa | Suresh Naidu | David Blei
Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics

Ideal point models analyze lawmakers’ votes to quantify their political positions, or ideal points. But votes are not the only way to express a political position. Lawmakers also give speeches, release press statements, and post tweets. In this paper, we introduce the text-based ideal point model (TBIP), an unsupervised probabilistic topic model that analyzes texts to quantify the political positions of its authors. We demonstrate the TBIP with two types of politicized text data: U.S. Senate speeches and senator tweets. Though the model does not analyze their votes or political affiliations, the TBIP separates lawmakers by party, learns interpretable politicized topics, and infers ideal points close to the classical vote-based ideal points. One benefit of analyzing texts, as opposed to votes, is that the TBIP can estimate ideal points of anyone who authors political texts, including non-voting actors. To this end, we use it to study tweets from the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Using only the texts of their tweets, it identifies them along an interpretable progressive-to-moderate spectrum.