Peter West


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NovaCOMET: Open Commonsense Foundation Models with Symbolic Knowledge Distillation
Peter West | Ronan Bras | Taylor Sorensen | Bill Lin | Liwei Jiang | Ximing Lu | Khyathi Chandu | Jack Hessel | Ashutosh Baheti | Chandra Bhagavatula | Yejin Choi
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2023

We present NovaCOMET, an open commonsense knowledge model, that combines the best aspects of knowledge and general task models. Compared to previous knowledge models, NovaCOMET allows open-format relations enabling direct application to reasoning tasks; compared to general task models like Flan-T5, it explicitly centers knowledge, enabling superior performance for commonsense reasoning. NovaCOMET leverages the knowledge of opaque proprietary models to create an open knowledge pipeline. First, knowledge is symbolically distilled into NovATOMIC, a publicly-releaseddiscrete knowledge graph which can be audited, critiqued, and filtered. Next, we train NovaCOMET on NovATOMIC by fine-tuning an open-source pretrained model. NovaCOMET uses an open-format training objective, replacing the fixed relation sets of past knowledge models, enabling arbitrary structures within the data to serve as inputs or outputs. The resulting generation model, optionally augmented with human annotation, matches or exceeds comparable open task models like Flan-T5 on a range of commonsense generation tasks. NovaCOMET serves as a counterexample to the contemporary focus on instruction tuning only, demonstrating a distinct advantage to explicitly modeling commonsense knowledge as well.

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We’re Afraid Language Models Aren’t Modeling Ambiguity
Alisa Liu | Zhaofeng Wu | Julian Michael | Alane Suhr | Peter West | Alexander Koller | Swabha Swayamdipta | Noah Smith | Yejin Choi
Proceedings of the 2023 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Ambiguity is an intrinsic feature of natural language. Managing ambiguity is a key part of human language understanding, allowing us to anticipate misunderstanding as communicators and revise our interpretations as listeners. As language models are increasingly employed as dialogue interfaces and writing aids, handling ambiguous language is critical to their success. We capture ambiguity in a sentence through its effect on entailment relations with another sentence, and collect AmbiEnt, a linguist-annotated benchmark of 1,645 examples with diverse kinds of ambiguity. We design a suite of tests based on AmbiEnt, presenting the first evaluation of pretrained LMs to recognize ambiguity and disentangle possible meanings. We find that the task remains extremely challenging, including for GPT-4, whose generated disambiguations are considered correct only 32% of the time in crowdworker evaluation, compared to 90% for disambiguations in our dataset. Finally, to illustrate the value of ambiguity-sensitive tools, we show that a multilabel NLI model can flag political claims in the wild that are misleading due to ambiguity. We encourage the field to rediscover the importance of ambiguity for NLP.

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Inference-Time Policy Adapters (IPA): Tailoring Extreme-Scale LMs without Fine-tuning
Ximing Lu | Faeze Brahman | Peter West | Jaehun Jung | Khyathi Chandu | Abhilasha Ravichander | Prithviraj Ammanabrolu | Liwei Jiang | Sahana Ramnath | Nouha Dziri | Jillian Fisher | Bill Lin | Skyler Hallinan | Lianhui Qin | Xiang Ren | Sean Welleck | Yejin Choi
Proceedings of the 2023 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

While extreme-scale language models have demonstrated exceptional performance on a variety of language tasks, the degree of control over these language models through pure prompting can often be limited. Directly fine-tuning such language models can be effective for tailoring them, but it can be either extremely costly (e.g., GPT-3) or not even feasible for the broader community (e.g., GPT-4). We propose Inference-time Policy Adapters (IPA), which efficiently tailors a language model such as GPT-3 without fine-tuning it. IPA guides a large base model during decoding time through a lightweight policy adapter trained to optimize an arbitrary user objective with reinforcement learning. On five challenging text generation tasks, such as toxicity reduction and lexically constrained generation, IPA consistently brings significant improvements over off-the-shelf language models. It outperforms competitive baseline methods, sometimes even including expensive fine-tuning. In particular, tailoring GPT-2 with IPA can outperform GPT-3, while tailoring GPT-3 with IPA brings a major performance boost over GPT-3 (and sometimes even over GPT-4). Our promising results highlight the potential of IPA as a lightweight alternative to tailoring extreme-scale language models.

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SODA: Million-scale Dialogue Distillation with Social Commonsense Contextualization
Hyunwoo Kim | Jack Hessel | Liwei Jiang | Peter West | Ximing Lu | Youngjae Yu | Pei Zhou | Ronan Bras | Malihe Alikhani | Gunhee Kim | Maarten Sap | Yejin Choi
Proceedings of the 2023 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Data scarcity has been a long standing issue in the field of open-domain social dialogue. To quench this thirst, we present SODA: the first publicly available, million-scale high-quality social dialogue dataset. By contextualizing social commonsense knowledge from a knowledge graph, we are able to distill an exceptionally broad spectrum of social interactions from a large language model. Human evaluation shows that conversations in SODA are more consistent, specific, and (surprisingly) natural than those in prior human-authored datasets. Using SODA, we train COSMO: a generalizable conversation model that is significantly more natural and consistent on unseen datasets than best-performing conversation models (e.g., GODEL, BlenderBot-1, Koala, Vicuna). Experiments reveal COSMO is sometimes even preferred to the original human-written gold responses. Additionally, our results shed light on the distinction between knowledge-enriched conversations and natural social chitchats. We plan to make our data, model, and code public.

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I2D2: Inductive Knowledge Distillation with NeuroLogic and Self-Imitation
Chandra Bhagavatula | Jena D. Hwang | Doug Downey | Ronan Le Bras | Ximing Lu | Lianhui Qin | Keisuke Sakaguchi | Swabha Swayamdipta | Peter West | Yejin Choi
Proceedings of the 61st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers)

Commonsense capabilities of pre-trained language models dramatically improve with scale, leading many to believe that scale is the only winning recipe. But is it? Here, we investigate an alternative that a priori seems impossible: can smaller language models (e.g., GPT-2) win over models that are orders of magnitude larger and better (e.g., GPT-3), if powered with novel commonsense distillation algorithms?The key intellectual challenge is to design a learning algorithm that achieve a competitive level of commonsense acquisition, without relying on the benefits of scale. In particular, we study generative models of commonsense knowledge, focusing on the task of generating generics, statements of commonsense facts about everyday concepts, e.g., birds can fly. We introduce I2D2, a novel commonsense distillation framework that loosely follows the Symbolic Knowledge Distillation of West et al. but breaks the dependence on the extreme-scale teacher model with two innovations: (1) the novel adaptation of NeuroLogic Decoding to enhance the generation quality of the weak, off-the-shelf language models, and (2) self-imitation learning to iteratively learn from the model’s own enhanced commonsense acquisition capabilities. Empirical results suggest that scale is not the only way, as novel algorithms can be a promising alternative. Moreover, our study leads to a new corpus of generics, Gen-A-tomic, that is the largest and highest quality available to date.

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Minding Language Models’ (Lack of) Theory of Mind: A Plug-and-Play Multi-Character Belief Tracker
Melanie Sclar | Sachin Kumar | Peter West | Alane Suhr | Yejin Choi | Yulia Tsvetkov
Proceedings of the 61st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers)

Theory of Mind (ToM)—the ability to reason about the mental states of other people—is a key element of our social intelligence. Yet, despite their ever more impressive performance, large-scale neural language models still lack basic theory of mind capabilities out-of-the-box. We posit that simply scaling up models will not imbue them with theory of mind due to the inherently symbolic and implicit nature of the phenomenon, and instead investigate an alternative: can we design a decoding-time algorithm that enhances theory of mind of off-the-shelf neural language models without explicit supervision? We present SymbolicToM, a plug-and-play approach to reason about the belief states of multiple characters in reading comprehension tasks via explicit symbolic representation. More concretely, our approach tracks each entity’s beliefs, their estimation of other entities’ beliefs, and higher-order levels of reasoning, all through graphical representations, allowing for more precise and interpretable reasoning than previous approaches. Empirical results on the well-known ToMi benchmark (Le et al., 2019) demonstrate that SymbolicToM dramatically enhances off-the-shelf neural networks’ theory of mind in a zero-shot setting while showing robust out-of-distribution performance compared to supervised baselines. Our work also reveals spurious patterns in existing theory of mind benchmarks, emphasizing the importance of out-of-distribution evaluation and methods that do not overfit a particular dataset.


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Generated Knowledge Prompting for Commonsense Reasoning
Jiacheng Liu | Alisa Liu | Ximing Lu | Sean Welleck | Peter West | Ronan Le Bras | Yejin Choi | Hannaneh Hajishirzi
Proceedings of the 60th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers)

It remains an open question whether incorporating external knowledge benefits commonsense reasoning while maintaining the flexibility of pretrained sequence models. To investigate this question, we develop generated knowledge prompting, which consists of generating knowledge from a language model, then providing the knowledge as additional input when answering a question. Our method does not require task-specific supervision for knowledge integration, or access to a structured knowledge base, yet it improves performance of large-scale, state-of-the-art models on four commonsense reasoning tasks, achieving state-of-the-art results on numerical commonsense (NumerSense), general commonsense (CommonsenseQA 2.0), and scientific commonsense (QASC) benchmarks. Generated knowledge prompting highlights large-scale language models as flexible sources of external knowledge for improving commonsense reasoning. Our code is available at

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Probing Factually Grounded Content Transfer with Factual Ablation
Peter West | Chris Quirk | Michel Galley | Yejin Choi
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: ACL 2022

Despite recent success, large neural models often generate factually incorrect text. Compounding this is the lack of a standard automatic evaluation for factuality–it cannot be meaningfully improved if it cannot be measured. Grounded generation promises a path to solving both of these problems: models draw on a reliable external document (grounding) for factual information, simplifying the challenge of factuality. Measuring factuality is also simplified–to factual consistency, testing whether the generation agrees with the grounding, rather than all facts. Yet, without a standard automatic metric for factual consistency, factually grounded generation remains an open problem. We study this problem for content transfer, in which generations extend a prompt, using information from factual grounding. Particularly, this domain allows us to introduce the notion of factual ablation for automatically measuring factual consistency: this captures the intuition that the model should be less likely to produce an output given a less relevant grounding document. In practice, we measure this by presenting a model with two grounding documents, and the model should prefer to use the more factually relevant one. We contribute two evaluation sets to measure this. Applying our new evaluation, we propose multiple novel methods improving over strong baselines.

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NeuroLogic A*esque Decoding: Constrained Text Generation with Lookahead Heuristics
Ximing Lu | Sean Welleck | Peter West | Liwei Jiang | Jungo Kasai | Daniel Khashabi | Ronan Le Bras | Lianhui Qin | Youngjae Yu | Rowan Zellers | Noah A. Smith | Yejin Choi
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies

The dominant paradigm for neural text generation is left-to-right decoding from autoregressive language models. Constrained or controllable generation under complex lexical constraints, however, requires foresight to plan ahead feasible future paths. Drawing inspiration from the A* search algorithm, we propose NeuroLogic A*esque, a decoding algorithm that incorporates heuristic estimates of future cost. We develop lookahead heuristics that are efficient for large-scale language models, making our method a drop-in replacement for common techniques such as beam search and top-k sampling. To enable constrained generation, we build on NeuroLogic decoding (Lu et al., 2021), combining its flexibility in incorporating logical constraints with A*esque estimates of future constraint satisfaction. Our approach outperforms competitive baselines on five generation tasks, and achieves new state-of-the-art performance on table-to-text generation, constrained machine translation, and keyword-constrained generation. The improvements are particularly notable on tasks that require complex constraint satisfaction or in few-shot or zero-shot settings. NeuroLogic A*esque illustrates the power of decoding for improving and enabling new capabilities of large-scale language models.

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Symbolic Knowledge Distillation: from General Language Models to Commonsense Models
Peter West | Chandra Bhagavatula | Jack Hessel | Jena Hwang | Liwei Jiang | Ronan Le Bras | Ximing Lu | Sean Welleck | Yejin Choi
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies

The common practice for training commonsense models has gone from–human–to–corpus–to–machine: humans author commonsense knowledge graphs in order to train commonsense models. In this work, we investigate an alternative, from–machine–to–corpus–to–machine: general language models author these commonsense knowledge graphs to train commonsense models. Our study leads to a new framework, Symbolic Knowledge Distillation. As with prior art in Knowledge Distillation (Hinton et al. 2015), our approach uses larger models to teach smaller models. A key difference is that we distill knowledge symbolically–as text–in addition to the neural model. We distill only one aspect–the commonsense of a general language model teacher, allowing the student to be a different type, a commonsense model. Altogether, we show that careful prompt engineering and a separately trained critic model allow us to selectively distill high-quality causal commonsense from GPT-3, a general language model. Empirical results demonstrate that, for the first time, a human-authored commonsense knowledge graph is surpassed by our automatically distilled variant in all three criteria: quantity, quality, and diversity. In addition, it results in a neural commonsense model that surpasses the teacher model’s commonsense capabilities despite its 100x smaller size. We apply this to the ATOMIC resource, and will share our new symbolic knowledge graph and commonsense models.

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Referee: Reference-Free Sentence Summarization with Sharper Controllability through Symbolic Knowledge Distillation
Melanie Sclar | Peter West | Sachin Kumar | Yulia Tsvetkov | Yejin Choi
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

We present Referee, a novel framework for sentence summarization that can be trained reference-free (i.e., requiring no gold summaries for supervision), while allowing direct control for compression ratio. Our work is the first to demonstrate that reference-free, controlled sentence summarization is feasible via the conceptual framework of Symbolic Knowledge Distillation (West et al., 2022), where latent knowledge in pre-trained language models is distilled via explicit examples sampled from the teacher models, further purified with three types of filters: length, fidelity, and Information Bottleneck. Moreover, we uniquely propose iterative distillation of knowledge, where student models from the previous iteration of distillation serve as teacher models in the next iteration. Starting off from a relatively modest set of GPT3-generated summaries, we demonstrate how iterative knowledge distillation can lead to considerably smaller, but better summarizers with sharper controllability. A useful by-product of this iterative distillation process is a high-quality dataset of sentence-summary pairs with varying degrees of compression ratios. Empirical results demonstrate that the final student models vastly outperform the much larger GPT3-Instruct model in terms of the controllability of compression ratios, without compromising the quality of resulting summarization.


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NeuroLogic Decoding: (Un)supervised Neural Text Generation with Predicate Logic Constraints
Ximing Lu | Peter West | Rowan Zellers | Ronan Le Bras | Chandra Bhagavatula | Yejin Choi
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies

Conditional text generation often requires lexical constraints, i.e., which words should or shouldn’t be included in the output text. While the dominant recipe for conditional text generation has been large-scale pretrained language models that are finetuned on the task-specific training data, such models do not learn to follow the underlying constraints reliably, even when supervised with large amounts of task-specific examples. We propose NeuroLogic Decoding, a simple yet effective algorithm that enables neural language models – supervised or not – to generate fluent text while satisfying complex lexical constraints. Our approach is powerful yet efficient. It handles any set of lexical constraints that is expressible under predicate logic, while its asymptotic runtime is equivalent to conventional beam search. Empirical results on four benchmarks show that NeuroLogic Decoding outperforms previous approaches, including algorithms that handle a subset of our constraints. Moreover, we find that unsupervised models with NeuroLogic Decoding often outperform supervised models with conventional decoding, even when the latter is based on considerably larger networks. Our results suggest the limit of large-scale neural networks for fine-grained controllable generation and the promise of inference-time algorithms.

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Reflective Decoding: Beyond Unidirectional Generation with Off-the-Shelf Language Models
Peter West | Ximing Lu | Ari Holtzman | Chandra Bhagavatula | Jena D. Hwang | Yejin Choi
Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics and the 11th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (Volume 1: Long Papers)

Publicly available, large pretrained Language Models (LMs) generate text with remarkable quality, but only sequentially from left to right. As a result, they are not immediately applicable to generation tasks that break the unidirectional assumption, such as paraphrasing or text-infilling, necessitating task-specific supervision. In this paper, we present Reflective Decoding, a novel unsupervised algorithm that allows for direct application of unidirectional LMs to non-sequential tasks. Our 2-step approach requires no supervision or even parallel corpora, only two off-the-shelf pretrained LMs in opposite directions: forward and backward. First, in the contextualization step, we use LMs to generate ensembles of past and future contexts which collectively capture the input (e.g. the source sentence for paraphrasing). Second, in the reflection step, we condition on these “context ensembles”, generating outputs that are compatible with them. Comprehensive empirical results demonstrate that Reflective Decoding outperforms strong unsupervised baselines on both paraphrasing and abductive text infilling, significantly narrowing the gap between unsupervised and supervised methods. Reflective Decoding surpasses multiple supervised baselines on various metrics including human evaluation.

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Surface Form Competition: Why the Highest Probability Answer Isn’t Always Right
Ari Holtzman | Peter West | Vered Shwartz | Yejin Choi | Luke Zettlemoyer
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Large language models have shown promising results in zero-shot settings. For example, they can perform multiple choice tasks simply by conditioning on a question and selecting the answer with the highest probability. However, ranking by string probability can be problematic due to surface form competition—wherein different surface forms compete for probability mass, even if they represent the same underlying concept in a given context, e.g. “computer” and “PC.” Since probability mass is finite, this lowers the probability of the correct answer, due to competition from other strings that are valid answers (but not one of the multiple choice options). We introduce Domain Conditional Pointwise Mutual Information, an alternative scoring function that directly compensates for surface form competition by simply reweighing each option according to its a priori likelihood within the context of a specific task. It achieves consistent gains in zero-shot performance over both calibrated and uncalibrated scoring functions on all GPT-2 and GPT-3 models on a variety of multiple choice datasets.


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Back to the Future: Unsupervised Backprop-based Decoding for Counterfactual and Abductive Commonsense Reasoning
Lianhui Qin | Vered Shwartz | Peter West | Chandra Bhagavatula | Jena D. Hwang | Ronan Le Bras | Antoine Bosselut | Yejin Choi
Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP)

Abductive and counterfactual reasoning, core abilities of everyday human cognition, require reasoning about what might have happened at time t, while conditioning on multiple contexts from the relative past and future. However, simultaneous incorporation of past and future contexts using generative language models (LMs) can be challenging, as they are trained either to condition only on the past context or to perform narrowly scoped text-infilling. In this paper, we propose DeLorean, a new unsupervised decoding algorithm that can flexibly incorporate both the past and future contexts using only off-the-shelf, left-to-right language models and no supervision. The key intuition of our algorithm is incorporating the future through back-propagation, during which, we only update the internal representation of the output while fixing the model parameters. By alternating between forward and backward propagation, DeLorean can decode the output representation that reflects both the left and right contexts. We demonstrate that our approach is general and applicable to two nonmonotonic reasoning tasks: abductive text generation and counterfactual story revision, where DeLorean outperforms a range of unsupervised and some supervised methods, based on automatic and human evaluation.

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Unsupervised Commonsense Question Answering with Self-Talk
Vered Shwartz | Peter West | Ronan Le Bras | Chandra Bhagavatula | Yejin Choi
Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP)

Natural language understanding involves reading between the lines with implicit background knowledge. Current systems either rely on pre-trained language models as the sole implicit source of world knowledge, or resort to external knowledge bases (KBs) to incorporate additional relevant knowledge. We propose an unsupervised framework based on self-talk as a novel alternative to multiple-choice commonsense tasks. Inspired by inquiry-based discovery learning (Bruner, 1961), our approach inquires language models with a number of information seeking questions such as “what is the definition of...” to discover additional background knowledge. Empirical results demonstrate that the self-talk procedure substantially improves the performance of zero-shot language model baselines on four out of six commonsense benchmarks, and competes with models that obtain knowledge from external KBs. While our approach improves performance on several benchmarks, the self-talk induced knowledge even when leading to correct answers is not always seen as helpful by human judges, raising interesting questions about the inner-workings of pre-trained language models for commonsense reasoning.


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BottleSum: Unsupervised and Self-supervised Sentence Summarization using the Information Bottleneck Principle
Peter West | Ari Holtzman | Jan Buys | Yejin Choi
Proceedings of the 2019 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and the 9th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (EMNLP-IJCNLP)

The principle of the Information Bottleneck (Tishby et al., 1999) produces a summary of information X optimized to predict some other relevant information Y. In this paper, we propose a novel approach to unsupervised sentence summarization by mapping the Information Bottleneck principle to a conditional language modelling objective: given a sentence, our approach seeks a compressed sentence that can best predict the next sentence. Our iterative algorithm under the Information Bottleneck objective searches gradually shorter subsequences of the given sentence while maximizing the probability of the next sentence conditioned on the summary. Using only pretrained language models with no direct supervision, our approach can efficiently perform extractive sentence summarization over a large corpus. Building on our unsupervised extractive summarization, we also present a new approach to self-supervised abstractive summarization, where a transformer-based language model is trained on the output summaries of our unsupervised method. Empirical results demonstrate that our extractive method outperforms other unsupervised models on multiple automatic metrics. In addition, we find that our self-supervised abstractive model outperforms unsupervised baselines (including our own) by human evaluation along multiple attributes.