Prasanna Parthasarathi


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Proceedings of the Workshop on Novel Ideas in Learning-to-Learn through Interaction (NILLI 2023)
Prasanna Parthasarathi | Chinnadhurai Sankar | Khyathi Chandu | Marc-Alexandre Côté
Proceedings of the Workshop on Novel Ideas in Learning-to-Learn through Interaction (NILLI 2023)

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Practical Takes on Federated Learning with Pretrained Language Models
Ankur Agarwal | Mehdi Rezagholizadeh | Prasanna Parthasarathi
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EACL 2023

Real-world applications of language models entail data privacy constraints when learning from diverse data domains. Federated learning with pretrained language models for language tasks has been gaining attention lately but there are definite confounders that warrants a careful study. Specifically, understanding the limits of federated NLP applications through varying the effects of different aspects (such as data heterogeneity, the trade-off between training time and performance, the effect of different data, and client distributions and sensitivity of the shared model to learning local distributions) is necessary to evaluate whether language models indeed learn to generalize by adapting to the different domains. Towards that, we elaborate different hypotheses over the components in federated NLP architectures and study them in detail with relevant experiments over three tasks: Stanford Sentiment Treebank-2, OntoNotes-5.0 and GigaWord. The experiments with different Transformer inductive biases on the variety of tasks provide a glimpse at the understanding of federated learning at NLP tasks. Specifically, the analysis suggests that regularization due to the ensembling effect may be masquerading as domain adaptation of federated learning in NLP with pre-trained language models.

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Measuring the Knowledge Acquisition-Utilization Gap in Pretrained Language Models
Amirhossein Kazemnejad | Mehdi Rezagholizadeh | Prasanna Parthasarathi | Sarath Chandar
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2023

While pre-trained language models (PLMs) have shown evidence of acquiring vast amounts of knowledge, it remains unclear how much of this parametric knowledge is actually usable in performing downstream tasks. We propose a systematic framework to measure parametric knowledge utilization in PLMs. Our framework first extracts knowledge from a PLM’s parameters and subsequently constructs a downstream task around this extracted knowledge. Performance on this task thus depends exclusively on utilizing the model’s possessed knowledge, avoiding confounding factors like insufficient signal. As an instantiation, we study factual knowledge of PLMs and measure utilization across 125M to 13B parameter PLMs. We observe that: (1) PLMs exhibit two gaps - in acquired vs. utilized knowledge, (2) they show limited robustness in utilizing knowledge under distribution shifts, and (3) larger models close the acquired knowledge gap but the utilized knowledge gap remains. Overall, our study provides insights into PLMs’ capabilities beyond their acquired knowledge.

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EpiK-Eval: Evaluation for Language Models as Epistemic Models
Gabriele Prato | Jerry Huang | Prasanna Parthasarathi | Shagun Sodhani | Sarath Chandar
Proceedings of the 2023 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

In the age of artificial intelligence, the role of large language models (LLMs) is becoming increasingly central. Despite their growing prevalence, their capacity to consolidate knowledge from different training documents—a crucial ability in numerous applications—remains unexplored. This paper presents the first study examining the capability of LLMs to effectively combine such information within their parameter space. We introduce EpiK-Eval, a novel question-answering benchmark tailored to evaluate LLMs’ proficiency in formulating a coherent and consistent knowledge representation from segmented narratives. Evaluations across various LLMs reveal significant weaknesses in this domain. We contend that these shortcomings stem from the intrinsic nature of prevailing training objectives. Consequently, we advocate for refining the approach towards knowledge consolidation, as it harbors the potential to dramatically improve their overall effectiveness and performance. The findings from this study offer insights for developing more robust and reliable LLMs. Our code and benchmark are available at

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On the utility of enhancing BERT syntactic bias with Token Reordering Pretraining
Yassir El Mesbahi | Atif Mahmud | Abbas Ghaddar | Mehdi Rezagholizadeh | Phillippe Langlais | Prasanna Parthasarathi
Proceedings of the 27th Conference on Computational Natural Language Learning (CoNLL)

Self-supervised Language Modelling (LM) objectives —like BERT masked LM— have become the default choice for pretraining language models. TOken Reordering (TOR) pretraining objectives, beyond token prediction, have not been extensively studied yet. In this work, we explore challenges that underlie the development and usefulness of such objectives on downstream language tasks. In particular, we design a novel TOR pretraining objective which predicts whether two tokens are adjacent or not given a partial bag-of-tokens input. In addition, we investigate the usefulness of Graph Isomorphism Network (GIN), when placed on top of the BERT encoder, in order to enhance the overall model ability to leverage topological signal from the encoded representations. We compare language understanding abilities of TOR to the one of MLM on word-order sensitive (e.g. Dependency Parsing) and insensitive (e.g. text classification) tasks in both full training and few-shot settings. Our results indicate that TOR is competitive to MLM on the GLUE language understanding benchmark, and slightly superior on syntax-dependent datasets, especially in the few-shot setting.


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Local Structure Matters Most in Most Languages
Louis Clouatre | Prasanna Parthasarathi | Amal Zouaq | Sarath Chandar
Proceedings of the 2nd Conference of the Asia-Pacific Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics and the 12th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (Volume 2: Short Papers)

Many recent perturbation studies have found unintuitive results on what does and does not matter when performing Natural Language Understanding (NLU) tasks in English. Coding properties, such as the order of words, can often be removed through shuffling without impacting downstream performances. Such insight may be used to direct future research into English NLP models. As many improvements in multilingual settings consist of wholesale adaptation of English approaches, it is important to verify whether those studies replicate or not in multilingual settings. In this work, we replicate a study on the importance of local structure, and the relative unimportance of global structure, in a multilingual setting. We find that the phenomenon observed on the English language broadly translates to over 120 languages, with a few caveats.

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Proceedings of the Workshop on Novel Ideas in Learning-to-Learn through Interaction (NILLI 2022)
Prasanna Parthasarathi | Marc-Alexandre Côté
Proceedings of the Workshop on Novel Ideas in Learning-to-Learn through Interaction (NILLI 2022)

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Local Structure Matters Most: Perturbation Study in NLU
Louis Clouatre | Prasanna Parthasarathi | Amal Zouaq | Sarath Chandar
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: ACL 2022

Recent research analyzing the sensitivity of natural language understanding models to word-order perturbations has shown that neural models are surprisingly insensitive to the order of words. In this paper, we investigate this phenomenon by developing order-altering perturbations on the order of words, subwords, and characters to analyze their effect on neural models’ performance on language understanding tasks. We experiment with measuring the impact of perturbations to the local neighborhood of characters and global position of characters in the perturbed texts and observe that perturbation functions found in prior literature only affect the global ordering while the local ordering remains relatively unperturbed. We empirically show that neural models, invariant of their inductive biases, pretraining scheme, or the choice of tokenization, mostly rely on the local structure of text to build understanding and make limited use of the global structure.

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Detecting Languages Unintelligible to Multilingual Models through Local Structure Probes
Louis Clouatre | Prasanna Parthasarathi | Amal Zouaq | Sarath Chandar
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2022

Providing better language tools for low-resource and endangered languages is imperative for equitable growth. Recent progress with massively multilingual pretrained models has proven surprisingly effective at performing zero-shot transfer to a wide variety of languages. However, this transfer is not universal, with many languages not currently understood by multilingual approaches. It is estimated that only 72 languages possess a “small set of labeled datasets” on which we could test a model’s performance, the vast majority of languages not having the resources available to simply evaluate performances on. In this work, we attempt to clarify which languages do and do not currently benefit from such transfer. To that end, we develop a general approach that requires only unlabelled text to detect which languages are not well understood by a cross-lingual model. Our approach is derived from the hypothesis that if a model’s understanding is insensitive to perturbations to text in a language, it is likely to have a limited understanding of that language. We construct a cross-lingual sentence similarity task to evaluate our approach empirically on 350, primarily low-resource, languages.


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UnNatural Language Inference
Koustuv Sinha | Prasanna Parthasarathi | Joelle Pineau | Adina Williams
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)

Recent investigations into the inner-workings of state-of-the-art large-scale pre-trained Transformer-based Natural Language Understanding (NLU) models indicate that they appear to understand human-like syntax, at least to some extent. We provide novel evidence that complicates this claim: we find that state-of-the-art Natural Language Inference (NLI) models assign the same labels to permuted examples as they do to the original, i.e. they are invariant to random word-order permutations. This behavior notably differs from that of humans; we struggle to understand the meaning of ungrammatical sentences. To measure the severity of this issue, we propose a suite of metrics and investigate which properties of particular permutations lead models to be word order invariant. For example, in MNLI dataset we find almost all (98.7%) examples contain at least one permutation which elicits the gold label. Models are even able to assign gold labels to permutations that they originally failed to predict correctly. We provide a comprehensive empirical evaluation of this phenomenon, and further show that this issue exists in pre-Transformer RNN / ConvNet based encoders, as well as across multiple languages (English and Chinese). Our code and data are available at

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A Brief Study on the Effects of Training Generative Dialogue Models with a Semantic loss
Prasanna Parthasarathi | Mohamed Abdelsalam | Sarath Chandar | Joelle Pineau
Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Special Interest Group on Discourse and Dialogue

Neural models trained for next utterance generation in dialogue task learn to mimic the n-gram sequences in the training set with training objectives like negative log-likelihood (NLL) or cross-entropy. Such commonly used training objectives do not foster generating alternate responses to a context. But, the effects of minimizing an alternate training objective that fosters a model to generate alternate response and score it on semantic similarity has not been well studied. We hypothesize that a language generation model can improve on its diversity by learning to generate alternate text during training and minimizing a semantic loss as an auxiliary objective. We explore this idea on two different sized data sets on the task of next utterance generation in goal oriented dialogues. We make two observations (1) minimizing a semantic objective improved diversity in responses in the smaller data set (Frames) but only as-good-as minimizing the NLL in the larger data set (MultiWoZ) (2) large language model embeddings can be more useful as a semantic loss objective than as initialization for token embeddings.

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Do Encoder Representations of Generative Dialogue Models have sufficient summary of the Information about the task ?
Prasanna Parthasarathi | Joelle Pineau | Sarath Chandar
Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Special Interest Group on Discourse and Dialogue

Predicting the next utterance in dialogue is contingent on encoding of users’ input text to generate appropriate and relevant response in data-driven approaches. Although the semantic and syntactic quality of the language generated is evaluated, more often than not, the encoded representation of input is not evaluated. As the representation of the encoder is essential for predicting the appropriate response, evaluation of encoder representation is a challenging yet important problem. In this work, we showcase evaluating the text generated through human or automatic metrics is not sufficient to appropriately evaluate soundness of the language understanding of dialogue models and, to that end, propose a set of probe tasks to evaluate encoder representation of different language encoders commonly used in dialogue models. From experiments, we observe that some of the probe tasks are easier and some are harder for even sophisticated model architectures to learn. And, through experiments we observe that RNN based architectures have lower performance on automatic metrics on text generation than transformer model but perform better than the transformer model on the probe tasks indicating that RNNs might preserve task information better than the Transformers.

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Sometimes We Want Ungrammatical Translations
Prasanna Parthasarathi | Koustuv Sinha | Joelle Pineau | Adina Williams
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2021

Rapid progress in Neural Machine Translation (NMT) systems over the last few years has focused primarily on improving translation quality, and as a secondary focus, improving robustness to perturbations (e.g. spelling). While performance and robustness are important objectives, by over-focusing on these, we risk overlooking other important properties. In this paper, we draw attention to the fact that for some applications, faithfulness to the original (input) text is important to preserve, even if it means introducing unusual language patterns in the (output) translation. We propose a simple, novel way to quantify whether an NMT system exhibits robustness or faithfulness, by focusing on the case of word-order perturbations. We explore a suite of functions to perturb the word order of source sentences without deleting or injecting tokens, and measure their effects on the target side. Across several experimental conditions, we observe a strong tendency towards robustness rather than faithfulness. These results allow us to better understand the trade-off between faithfulness and robustness in NMT, and opens up the possibility of developing systems where users have more autonomy and control in selecting which property is best suited for their use case.


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Learning an Unreferenced Metric for Online Dialogue Evaluation
Koustuv Sinha | Prasanna Parthasarathi | Jasmine Wang | Ryan Lowe | William L. Hamilton | Joelle Pineau
Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics

Evaluating the quality of a dialogue interaction between two agents is a difficult task, especially in open-domain chit-chat style dialogue. There have been recent efforts to develop automatic dialogue evaluation metrics, but most of them do not generalize to unseen datasets and/or need a human-generated reference response during inference, making it infeasible for online evaluation. Here, we propose an unreferenced automated evaluation metric that uses large pre-trained language models to extract latent representations of utterances, and leverages the temporal transitions that exist between them. We show that our model achieves higher correlation with human annotations in an online setting, while not requiring true responses for comparison during inference.

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On Task-Level Dialogue Composition of Generative Transformer Model
Prasanna Parthasarathi | Sharan Narang | Arvind Neelakantan
Proceedings of the First Workshop on Insights from Negative Results in NLP

Task-oriented dialogue systems help users accomplish tasks such as booking a movie ticket and ordering food via conversation. Generative models parameterized by a deep neural network are widely used for next turn response generation in such systems. It is natural for users of the system to want to accomplish multiple tasks within the same conversation, but the ability of generative models to compose multiple tasks is not well studied. In this work, we begin by studying the effect of training human-human task-oriented dialogues towards improving the ability to compose multiple tasks on Transformer generative models. To that end, we propose and explore two solutions: (1) creating synthetic multiple task dialogue data for training from human-human single task dialogue and (2) forcing the encoder representation to be invariant to single and multiple task dialogues using an auxiliary loss. The results from our experiments highlight the difficulty of even the sophisticated variant of transformer model in learning to compose multiple tasks from single task dialogues.


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Extending Neural Generative Conversational Model using External Knowledge Sources
Prasanna Parthasarathi | Joelle Pineau
Proceedings of the 2018 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

The use of connectionist approaches in conversational agents has been progressing rapidly due to the availability of large corpora. However current generative dialogue models often lack coherence and are content poor. This work proposes an architecture to incorporate unstructured knowledge sources to enhance the next utterance prediction in chit-chat type of generative dialogue models. We focus on Sequence-to-Sequence (Seq2Seq) conversational agents trained with the Reddit News dataset, and consider incorporating external knowledge from Wikipedia summaries as well as from the NELL knowledge base. Our experiments show faster training time and improved perplexity when leveraging external knowledge.


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MACA: A Modular Architecture for Conversational Agents
Hoai Phuoc Truong | Prasanna Parthasarathi | Joelle Pineau
Proceedings of the 18th Annual SIGdial Meeting on Discourse and Dialogue

We propose a software architecture designed to ease the implementation of dialogue systems. The Modular Architecture for Conversational Agents (MACA) uses a plug-n-play style that allows quick prototyping, thereby facilitating the development of new techniques and the reproduction of previous work. The architecture separates the domain of the conversation from the agent’s dialogue strategy, and as such can be easily extended to multiple domains. MACA provides tools to host dialogue agents on Amazon Mechanical Turk (mTurk) for data collection and allows processing of other sources of training data. The current version of the framework already incorporates several domains and existing dialogue strategies from the recent literature.