Robert West


2023

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An Ordinal Latent Variable Model of Conflict Intensity
Niklas Stoehr | Lucas Torroba Hennigen | Josef Valvoda | Robert West | Ryan Cotterell | Aaron Schein
Proceedings of the 61st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers)

Measuring the intensity of events is crucial for monitoring and tracking armed conflict. Advances in automated event extraction have yielded massive data sets of “who did what to whom” micro-records that enable data-driven approaches to monitoring conflict. The Goldstein scale is a widely-used expert-based measure that scores events on a conflictual–cooperative scale. It is based only on the action category (“what”) and disregards the subject (“who”) and object (“to whom”) of an event, as well as contextual information, like associated casualty count, that should contribute to the perception of an event’s “intensity”. This paper takes a latent variable-based approach to measuring conflict intensity. We introduce a probabilistic generative model that assumes each observed event is associated with a latent intensity class. A novel aspect of this model is that it imposes an ordering on the classes, such that higher-valued classes denote higher levels of intensity. The ordinal nature of the latent variable is induced from naturally ordered aspects of the data (e.g., casualty counts) where higher values naturally indicate higher intensity. We evaluate the proposed model both intrinsically and extrinsically, showing that it obtains comparatively good held-out predictive performance.

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The Glass Ceiling of Automatic Evaluation in Natural Language Generation
Pierre Colombo | Maxime Peyrard | Nathan Noiry | Robert West | Pablo Piantanida
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: IJCNLP-AACL 2023 (Findings)

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Exploiting Asymmetry for Synthetic Training Data Generation: SynthIE and the Case of Information Extraction
Martin Josifoski | Marija Sakota | Maxime Peyrard | Robert West
Proceedings of the 2023 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Large language models (LLMs) have great potential for synthetic data generation. This work shows that useful data can be synthetically generated even for tasks that cannot be solved directly by LLMs: for problems with structured outputs, it is possible to prompt an LLM to perform the task in the reverse direction, by generating plausible input text for a target output structure. Leveraging this asymmetry in task difficulty makes it possible to produce large-scale, high-quality data for complex tasks. We demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach on closed information extraction, where collecting ground-truth data is challenging, and no satisfactory dataset exists to date. We synthetically generate a dataset of 1.8M data points, establish its superior quality compared to existing datasets in a human evaluation, and use it to finetune small models (220M and 770M parameters), termed SynthIE, that outperform the prior state of the art (with equal model size) by a substantial margin of 57 absolute points in micro-F1 and 79 points in macro-F1. Code, data, and models are available at anonymous.

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Grammar-Constrained Decoding for Structured NLP Tasks without Finetuning
Saibo Geng | Martin Josifoski | Maxime Peyrard | Robert West
Proceedings of the 2023 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Despite their impressive performance, large language models (LMs) still struggle with reliably generating complex output structures when not finetuned to follow the required output format exactly. To address this issue, grammar-constrained decoding (GCD) can be used to control the generation of LMs, guaranteeing that the output follows a given structure. Most existing GCD methods are, however, limited to specific tasks, such as parsing or code generation. In this work, we demonstrate that formal grammars can describe the output space for a much wider range of tasks and argue that GCD can serve as a unified framework for structured NLP tasks in general. For increased flexibility, we introduce input-dependent grammars, which allow the grammar to depend on the input and thus enable the generation of different output structures for different inputs. We then empirically demonstrate the power and flexibility of GCD-enhanced LMs on (1) information extraction, (2) entity disambiguation, and (3) constituency parsing. Our results indicate that grammar-constrained LMs substantially outperform unconstrained LMs or even beat task-specific finetuned models. Grammar constraints thus hold great promise for harnessing off-the-shelf LMs for a wide range of structured NLP tasks, especially where training data is scarce or finetuning is expensive. Code and data: https://github.com/epfl-dlab/GCD.

2022

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Invariant Language Modeling
Maxime Peyrard | Sarvjeet Ghotra | Martin Josifoski | Vidhan Agarwal | Barun Patra | Dean Carignan | Emre Kiciman | Saurabh Tiwary | Robert West
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Modern pretrained language models are critical components of NLP pipelines. Yet, they suffer from spurious correlations, poor out-of-domain generalization, and biases. Inspired by recent progress in causal machine learning, in particular the invariant risk minimization (IRM) paradigm, we propose invariant language modeling, a framework for learning invariant representations that generalize better across multiple environments. In particular, we adapt a game-theoretic implementation of IRM (IRM-games) to language models, where the invariance emerges from a specific training schedule in which all the environments compete to optimize their own environment-specific loss by updating subsets of the model in a round-robin fashion. We focused on controlled experiments to precisely demonstrate the ability of our method to (i) remove structured noise, (ii) ignore specific spurious correlations without affecting global performance, and (iii) achieve better out-of-domain generalization. These benefits come with a negligible computational overhead compared to standard training, do not require changing the local loss, and can be applied to any language model. We believe this framework is promising to help mitigate spurious correlations and biases in language models.

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Efficient Entity Candidate Generation for Low-Resource Languages
Alberto Garcia-Duran | Akhil Arora | Robert West
Proceedings of the Thirteenth Language Resources and Evaluation Conference

Candidate generation is a crucial module in entity linking. It also plays a key role in multiple NLP tasks that have been proven to beneficially leverage knowledge bases. Nevertheless, it has often been overlooked in the monolingual English entity linking literature, as naïve approaches obtain very good performance. Unfortunately, the existing approaches for English cannot be successfully transferred to poorly resourced languages. This paper constitutes an in-depth analysis of the candidate generation problem in the context of cross-lingual entity linking with a focus on low-resource languages. Among other contributions, we point out limitations in the evaluation conducted in previous works. We introduce a characterization of queries into types based on their difficulty, which improves the interpretability of the performance of different methods. We also propose a light-weight and simple solution based on the construction of indexes whose design is motivated by more complex transfer learning based neural approaches. A thorough empirical analysis on 9 real-world datasets under 2 evaluation settings shows that our simple solution outperforms the state-of-the-art approach in terms of both quality and efficiency for almost all datasets and query types.

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GenIE: Generative Information Extraction
Martin Josifoski | Nicola De Cao | Maxime Peyrard | Fabio Petroni | Robert West
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies

Structured and grounded representation of text is typically formalized by closed information extraction, the problem of extracting an exhaustive set of (subject, relation, object) triplets that are consistent with a predefined set of entities and relations from a knowledge base schema. Most existing works are pipelines prone to error accumulation, and all approaches are only applicable to unrealistically small numbers of entities and relations. We introduce GenIE (generative information extraction), the first end-to-end autoregressive formulation of closed information extraction. GenIE naturally exploits the language knowledge from the pre-trained transformer by autoregressively generating relations and entities in textual form. Thanks to a new bi-level constrained generation strategy, only triplets consistent with the predefined knowledge base schema are produced. Our experiments show that GenIE is state-of-the-art on closed information extraction, generalizes from fewer training data points than baselines, and scales to a previously unmanageable number of entities and relations. With this work, closed information extraction becomes practical in realistic scenarios, providing new opportunities for downstream tasks. Finally, this work paves the way towards a unified end-to-end approach to the core tasks of information extraction.

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Strong Heuristics for Named Entity Linking
Marko Čuljak | Andreas Spitz | Robert West | Akhil Arora
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies: Student Research Workshop

Named entity linking (NEL) in news is a challenging endeavour due to the frequency of unseen and emerging entities, which necessitates the use of unsupervised or zero-shot methods. However, such methods tend to come with caveats, such as no integration of suitable knowledge bases (like Wikidata) for emerging entities, a lack of scalability, and poor interpretability. Here, we consider person disambiguation in Quotebank, a massive corpus of speaker-attributed quotations from the news, and investigate the suitability of intuitive, lightweight, and scalable heuristics for NEL in web-scale corpora. Our best performing heuristic disambiguates 94% and 63% of the mentions on Quotebank and the AIDA-CoNLL benchmark, respectively. Additionally, the proposed heuristics compare favourably to the state-of-the-art unsupervised and zero-shot methods, Eigenthemes and mGENRE, respectively, thereby serving as strong baselines for unsupervised and zero-shot entity linking.

2021

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Better than Average: Paired Evaluation of NLP systems
Maxime Peyrard | Wei Zhao | Steffen Eger | Robert West
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)

Evaluation in NLP is usually done by comparing the scores of competing systems independently averaged over a common set of test instances. In this work, we question the use of averages for aggregating evaluation scores into a final number used to decide which system is best, since the average, as well as alternatives such as the median, ignores the pairing arising from the fact that systems are evaluated on the same test instances. We illustrate the importance of taking the instancelevel pairing of evaluation scores into account and demonstrate, both theoretically and empirically, the advantages of aggregation methods based on pairwise comparisons, such as the Bradley–Terry (BT) model, a mechanism based on the estimated probability that a given system scores better than another on the test set. By re-evaluating 296 real NLP evaluation setups across four tasks and 18 evaluation metrics, we show that the choice of aggregation mechanism matters and yields different conclusions as to which systems are state of the art in about 30% of the setups. To facilitate the adoption of pairwise evaluation, we release a practical tool for performing the full analysis of evaluation scores with the mean, median, BT, and two variants of BT (Elo and TrueSkill), alongside functionality for appropriate statistical testing.

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Classifying Dyads for Militarized Conflict Analysis
Niklas Stoehr | Lucas Torroba Hennigen | Samin Ahbab | Robert West | Ryan Cotterell
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Understanding the origins of militarized conflict is a complex, yet important undertaking. Existing research seeks to build this understanding by considering bi-lateral relationships between entity pairs (dyadic causes) and multi-lateral relationships among multiple entities (systemic causes). The aim of this work is to compare these two causes in terms of how they correlate with conflict between two entities. We do this by devising a set of textual and graph-based features which represent each of the causes. The features are extracted from Wikipedia and modeled as a large graph. Nodes in this graph represent entities connected by labeled edges representing ally or enemy-relationships. This allows casting the problem as an edge classification task, which we term dyad classification. We propose and evaluate classifiers to determine if a particular pair of entities are allies or enemies. Our results suggest that our systemic features might be slightly better correlates of conflict. Further, we find that Wikipedia articles of allies are semantically more similar than enemies.

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Low-Rank Subspaces for Unsupervised Entity Linking
Akhil Arora | Alberto Garcia-Duran | Robert West
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Entity linking is an important problem with many applications. Most previous solutions were designed for settings where annotated training data is available, which is, however, not the case in numerous domains. We propose a light-weight and scalable entity linking method, Eigenthemes, that relies solely on the availability of entity names and a referent knowledge base. Eigenthemes exploits the fact that the entities that are truly mentioned in a document (the “gold entities”) tend to form a semantically dense subset of the set of all candidate entities in the document. Geometrically speaking, when representing entities as vectors via some given embedding, the gold entities tend to lie in a low-rank subspace of the full embedding space. Eigenthemes identifies this subspace using the singular value decomposition and scores candidate entities according to their proximity to the subspace. On the empirical front, we introduce multiple strong baselines that compare favorably to (and sometimes even outperform) the existing state of the art. Extensive experiments on benchmark datasets from a variety of real-world domains showcase the effectiveness of our approach.

2020

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On the Limitations of Cross-lingual Encoders as Exposed by Reference-Free Machine Translation Evaluation
Wei Zhao | Goran Glavaš | Maxime Peyrard | Yang Gao | Robert West | Steffen Eger
Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics

Evaluation of cross-lingual encoders is usually performed either via zero-shot cross-lingual transfer in supervised downstream tasks or via unsupervised cross-lingual textual similarity. In this paper, we concern ourselves with reference-free machine translation (MT) evaluation where we directly compare source texts to (sometimes low-quality) system translations, which represents a natural adversarial setup for multilingual encoders. Reference-free evaluation holds the promise of web-scale comparison of MT systems. We systematically investigate a range of metrics based on state-of-the-art cross-lingual semantic representations obtained with pretrained M-BERT and LASER. We find that they perform poorly as semantic encoders for reference-free MT evaluation and identify their two key limitations, namely, (a) a semantic mismatch between representations of mutual translations and, more prominently, (b) the inability to punish “translationese”, i.e., low-quality literal translations. We propose two partial remedies: (1) post-hoc re-alignment of the vector spaces and (2) coupling of semantic-similarity based metrics with target-side language modeling. In segment-level MT evaluation, our best metric surpasses reference-based BLEU by 5.7 correlation points.

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KLearn: Background Knowledge Inference from Summarization Data
Maxime Peyrard | Robert West
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2020

The goal of text summarization is to compress documents to the relevant information while excluding background information already known to the receiver. So far, summarization researchers have given considerably more attention to relevance than to background knowledge. In contrast, this work puts background knowledge in the foreground. Building on the realization that the choices made by human summarizers and annotators contain implicit information about their background knowledge, we develop and compare techniques for inferring background knowledge from summarization data. Based on this framework, we define summary scoring functions that explicitly model background knowledge, and show that these scoring functions fit human judgments significantly better than baselines. We illustrate some of the many potential applications of our framework. First, we provide insights into human information importance priors. Second, we demonstrate that averaging the background knowledge of multiple, potentially biased annotators or corpora greatly improves summaryscoring performance. Finally, we discuss potential applications of our framework beyond summarization.

2018

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Churn Intent Detection in Multilingual Chatbot Conversations and Social Media
Christian Abbet | Meryem M’hamdi | Athanasios Giannakopoulos | Robert West | Andreea Hossmann | Michael Baeriswyl | Claudiu Musat
Proceedings of the 22nd Conference on Computational Natural Language Learning

We propose a new method to detect when users express the intent to leave a service, also known as churn. While previous work focuses solely on social media, we show that this intent can be detected in chatbot conversations. As companies increasingly rely on chatbots they need an overview of potentially churny users. To this end, we crowdsource and publish a dataset of churn intent expressions in chatbot interactions in German and English. We show that classifiers trained on social media data can detect the same intent in the context of chatbots. We introduce a classification architecture that outperforms existing work on churn intent detection in social media. Moreover, we show that, using bilingual word embeddings, a system trained on combined English and German data outperforms monolingual approaches. As the only existing dataset is in English, we crowdsource and publish a novel dataset of German tweets. We thus underline the universal aspect of the problem, as examples of churn intent in English help us identify churn in German tweets and chatbot conversations.

2014

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Exploiting Social Network Structure for Person-to-Person Sentiment Analysis
Robert West | Hristo S. Paskov | Jure Leskovec | Christopher Potts
Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Volume 2

Person-to-person evaluations are prevalent in all kinds of discourse and important for establishing reputations, building social bonds, and shaping public opinion. Such evaluations can be analyzed separately using signed social networks and textual sentiment analysis, but this misses the rich interactions between language and social context. To capture such interactions, we develop a model that predicts individual A’s opinion of individual B by synthesizing information from the signed social network in which A and B are embedded with sentiment analysis of the evaluative texts relating A to B. We prove that this problem is NP-hard but can be relaxed to an efficiently solvable hinge-loss Markov random field, and we show that this implementation outperforms text-only and network-only versions in two very different datasets involving community-level decision-making: the Wikipedia Requests for Adminship corpus and the Convote U.S. Congressional speech corpus.