Semi-supervised learning has shown promise in allowing NLP models to generalize from small amounts of labeled data. Meanwhile, pretrained transformer models act as black-box correlation engines that are difficult to explain and sometimes behave unreliably. In this paper, we propose tackling both of these challenges via Automatic Rule Induction (ARI), a simple and general-purpose framework for the automatic discovery and integration of symbolic rules into pretrained transformer models. First, we extract weak symbolic rules from low-capacity machine learning models trained on small amounts of labeled data. Next, we use an attention mechanism to integrate these rules into high-capacity pretrained transformer models. Last, the rule-augmented system becomes part of a self-training framework to boost supervision signal on unlabeled data. These steps can be layered beneath a variety of existing weak supervision and semi-supervised NLP algorithms in order to improve performance and interpretability. Experiments across nine sequence classification and relation extraction tasks suggest that ARI can improve state-of-the-art methods with no manual effort and minimal computational overhead.
A fundamental goal of scientific research is to learn about causal relationships. However, despite its critical role in the life and social sciences, causality has not had the same importance in Natural Language Processing (NLP), which has traditionally placed more emphasis on predictive tasks. This distinction is beginning to fade, with an emerging area of interdisciplinary research at the convergence of causal inference and language processing. Still, research on causality in NLP remains scattered across domains without unified definitions, benchmark datasets and clear articulations of the challenges and opportunities in the application of causal inference to the textual domain, with its unique properties. In this survey, we consolidate research across academic areas and situate it in the broader NLP landscape. We introduce the statistical challenge of estimating causal effects with text, encompassing settings where text is used as an outcome, treatment, or to address confounding. In addition, we explore potential uses of causal inference to improve the robustness, fairness, and interpretability of NLP models. We thus provide a unified overview of causal inference for the NLP community.1
We consider the problem of using observational data to estimate the causal effects of linguistic properties. For example, does writing a complaint politely lead to a faster response time? How much will a positive product review increase sales? This paper addresses two technical challenges related to the problem before developing a practical method. First, we formalize the causal quantity of interest as the effect of a writer’s intent, and establish the assumptions necessary to identify this from observational data. Second, in practice, we only have access to noisy proxies for the linguistic properties of interest—e.g., predictions from classifiers and lexicons. We propose an estimator for this setting and prove that its bias is bounded when we perform an adjustment for the text. Based on these results, we introduce TextCause, an algorithm for estimating causal effects of linguistic properties. The method leverages (1) distant supervision to improve the quality of noisy proxies, and (2) a pre-trained language model (BERT) to adjust for the text. We show that the proposed method outperforms related approaches when estimating the effect of Amazon review sentiment on semi-simulated sales figures. Finally, we present an applied case study investigating the effects of complaint politeness on bureaucratic response times.
NLP algorithms are increasingly used in computational social science to take linguistic observations and predict outcomes like human preferences or actions. Making these social models transparent and interpretable often requires identifying features in the input that predict outcomes while also controlling for potential confounds. We formalize this need as a new task: inducing a lexicon that is predictive of a set of target variables yet uncorrelated to a set of confounding variables. We introduce two deep learning algorithms for the task. The first uses a bifurcated architecture to separate the explanatory power of the text and confounds. The second uses an adversarial discriminator to force confound-invariant text encodings. Both elicit lexicons from learned weights and attentional scores. We use them to induce lexicons that are predictive of timely responses to consumer complaints (controlling for product), enrollment from course descriptions (controlling for subject), and sales from product descriptions (controlling for seller). In each domain our algorithms pick words that are associated with narrative persuasion; more predictive and less confound-related than those of standard feature weighting and lexicon induction techniques like regression and log odds.
How much does “free shipping!” help an advertisement’s ability to persuade? This paper presents two methods for performance attribution: finding the degree to which an outcome can be attributed to parts of a text while controlling for potential confounders. Both algorithms are based on interpreting the behaviors and parameters of trained neural networks. One method uses a CNN to encode the text, an adversarial objective function to control for confounders, and projects its weights onto its activations to interpret the importance of each phrase towards each output class. The other method leverages residualization to control for confounds and performs interpretation by aggregating over learned word vectors. We demonstrate these algorithms’ efficacy on 118,000 internet search advertisements and outcomes, finding language indicative of high and low click through rate (CTR) regardless of who the ad is by or what it is for. Our results suggest the proposed algorithms are high performance and data efficient, able to glean actionable insights from fewer than 10,000 data points. We find that quick, easy, and authoritative language is associated with success, while lackluster embellishment is related to failure. These findings agree with the advertising industry’s emperical wisdom, automatically revealing insights which previously required manual A/B testing to discover.