Prompting has shown impressive success in enabling large pre-trained language models (LMs) to perform diverse NLP tasks, especially with only few downstream data. Automatically finding the optimal prompt for each task, however, is challenging. Most existing work resorts to tuning *soft* prompts (e.g., embeddings) which fall short of interpretability, reusability across LMs, and applicability when gradients are not accessible. *Discrete* prompts, on the other hand, are difficult to optimize, and are often created by “enumeration (e.g., paraphrasing)-then-selection” heuristics that do not explore the prompt space systematically. This paper proposes RLPrompt, an efficient discrete prompt optimization approach with reinforcement learning (RL). RLPrompt formulates a parameter-efficient policy network that generates the optimized discrete prompt after training with reward. To harness the complex and stochastic reward signals from the large LM environment, we incorporate effective reward stabilization that substantially enhances training efficiency. RLPrompt is flexibly applicable to different types of LMs, such as masked (e.g., BERT) and left-to-right models (e.g., GPTs), for both classification and generation tasks. Experiments on few-shot classification and unsupervised text style transfer show superior performance over a wide range of existing fine-tuning or prompting methods. Interestingly, the resulting optimized prompts are often ungrammatical gibberish text; and surprisingly, those gibberish prompts are transferrable between different LMs to retain significant performance, indicating that LM prompting may not follow human language patterns.
Natural language generation (NLG) spans a broad range of tasks, each of which serves for specific objectives and desires different properties of generated text. The complexity makes automatic evaluation of NLG particularly challenging. Previous work has typically focused on a single task and developed individual evaluation metrics based on specific intuitions. In this paper, we propose a unifying perspective based on the nature of information change in NLG tasks, including compression (e.g., summarization), transduction (e.g., text rewriting), and creation (e.g., dialog). _Information alignment_ between input, context, and output text plays a common central role in characterizing the generation. With automatic alignment prediction models, we develop a family of interpretable metrics that are suitable for evaluating key aspects of different NLG tasks, often without need of gold reference data. Experiments show the uniformly designed metrics achieve stronger or comparable correlations with human judgement compared to state-of-the-art metrics in each of diverse tasks, including text summarization, style transfer, and knowledge-grounded dialog.