Timo Schick


2023

pdf bib
Unnatural Instructions: Tuning Language Models with (Almost) No Human Labor
Or Honovich | Thomas Scialom | Omer Levy | Timo Schick
Proceedings of the 61st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers)

Instruction tuning enables pretrained language models to perform new tasks from inference-time natural language descriptions. These approaches rely on vast amounts of human supervision in the form of crowdsourced datasets or user interactions. In this work, we introduce Unnatural Instructions: a large dataset of creative and diverse instructions, collected with virtually no human labor. We collect 64,000 examples by prompting a language model with three seed examples of instructions and eliciting a fourth. This set is then expanded by prompting the model to rephrase each instruction, creating a total of approximately 240,000 examples of instructions, inputs, and outputs. Experiments show that despite containing a fair amount of noise, training on Unnatural Instructions rivals the effectiveness of training on open-source manually-curated datasets, surpassing the performance of models such as T0++ and Tk-Instruct across various benchmarks. These results demonstrate the potential of model-generated data as a cost-effective alternative to crowdsourcing for dataset expansion and diversification.

pdf bib
Semantic-Oriented Unlabeled Priming for Large-Scale Language Models
Yanchen Liu | Timo Schick | Hinrich Schtze
Proceedings of The Fourth Workshop on Simple and Efficient Natural Language Processing (SustaiNLP)

pdf bib
Task-aware Retrieval with Instructions
Akari Asai | Timo Schick | Patrick Lewis | Xilun Chen | Gautier Izacard | Sebastian Riedel | Hannaneh Hajishirzi | Wen-tau Yih
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: ACL 2023

We study the problem of retrieval with instructions, where users provide explicit descriptions of their intent along with their queries to guide a retrieval system. Our solution is a general-purpose task-aware retrieval system, trained using multi-task instruction tuning and can follow human-written instructions to find relevant documents to a given query. We introduce the first large-scale collection of 37 retrieval datasets with instructions, BERRI, and present TART, a single multi-task retrieval system trained on BERRI with instructions that can adapt to a new task without any parameter updates. TART advances the state of the art on two zero-shot retrieval benchmarks, BEIR and LOTTE, outperforming models up to three times larger. We further introduce a new evaluation setup, X2-Retrieval, to better reflect real-world scenarios in which diverse domains and tasks are pooled. TART significantly outperforms competitive baselines in this setup, further highlighting the effectiveness of guiding retrieval with instructions.

pdf bib
MEAL: Stable and Active Learning for Few-Shot Prompting
Abdullatif Köksal | Timo Schick | Hinrich Schuetze
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2023

Few-shot classification has made great strides due to foundation models that, through priming and prompting, are highly effective few-shot learners. However, this approach has high variance both across different sets of few shots (*data selection*) and across different finetuning runs (*run variability*). This is problematic not only because it impedes the fair comparison of different approaches, but especially because it makes few-shot learning too unreliable for many real-world applications. To alleviate these issues, we make two contributions for more stable and effective few-shot learning: First, we propose novel ensembling methods and show that they substantially reduce *run variability*. Second, we introduce a new active learning (AL) criterion for *data selection* and present the first AL-based approach specifically tailored towards prompt-based learning. In our experiments, we show that our combined method, MEAL (**M**ultiprompt finetuning and prediction **E**nsembling with **A**ctive **L**earning), improves overall performance of prompt-based finetuning by 2.3 points on five diverse tasks. We publicly share our code and data splits in https://github.com/akoksal/MEAL.

pdf bib
Active Learning Principles for In-Context Learning with Large Language Models
Katerina Margatina | Timo Schick | Nikolaos Aletras | Jane Dwivedi-Yu
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2023

The remarkable advancements in large language models (LLMs) have significantly enhanced predictive performance in few-shot learning settings. By using only a small number of labeled examples, referred to as demonstrations, LLMs can effectively perform the task at hand through in-context learning. However, the process of selecting demonstrations for maximizing performance has received limited attention in prior work. This paper addresses the issue of identifying the most informative demonstrations for few-shot learning by approaching it as a pool-based Active Learning (AL) problem over a single iteration. We compare standard AL algorithms based on uncertainty, diversity, and similarity, and consistently observe that the latter outperforms all other methods, including random sampling. Our extensive experimentation involving a diverse range of GPT and OPT models across 24 classification and multi-choice tasks, coupled with thorough analysis, unambiguously demonstrates the importance of using demonstrations that are semantically similar to the domain of the test examples. In fact, we show higher average classification performance using “similar” demonstrations with GPT-2 (124M) than random demonstrations with GPT-Neox (20B). Notably, while diversity sampling shows promise, uncertainty sampling, despite its success in conventional supervised learning AL scenarios, performs poorly in in-context learning.

2022

pdf bib
CoDA21: Evaluating Language Understanding Capabilities of NLP Models With Context-Definition Alignment
Lütfi Kerem Senel | Timo Schick | Hinrich Schuetze
Proceedings of the 60th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 2: Short Papers)

Pretrained language models (PLMs) have achieved superhuman performance on many benchmarks, creating a need for harder tasks. We introduce CoDA21 (Context Definition Alignment), a challenging benchmark that measures natural language understanding (NLU) capabilities of PLMs: Given a definition and a context each for k words, but not the words themselves, the task is to align the k definitions with the k contexts. CoDA21 requires a deep understanding of contexts and definitions, including complex inference and world knowledge. We find that there is a large gap between human and PLM performance, suggesting that CoDA21 measures an aspect of NLU that is not sufficiently covered in existing benchmarks.

pdf bib
True Few-Shot Learning with Prompts—A Real-World Perspective
Timo Schick | Hinrich Schütze
Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Volume 10

Prompt-based approaches excel at few-shot learning. However, Perez et al. (2021) recently cast doubt on their performance as they had difficulty getting good results in a “true” few-shot setting in which prompts and hyperparameters cannot be tuned on a dev set. In view of this, we conduct an extensive study of Pet, a method that combines textual instructions with example-based finetuning. We show that, if correctly configured, Pet performs strongly in true few-shot settings without a dev set. Crucial for this strong performance is a number of design choices, including Pet’s ability to intelligently handle multiple prompts. We put our findings to a real-world test by running Pet on RAFT, a benchmark of tasks taken from realistic NLP applications for which no labeled dev or test sets are available. Pet achieves a new state of the art on RAFT and performs close to non-expert humans for 7 out of 11 tasks. These results demonstrate that prompt-based learners can successfully be applied in true few-shot settings and underpin our belief that learning from instructions will play an important role on the path towards human-like few-shot learning capabilities.

pdf bib
Leveraging QA Datasets to Improve Generative Data Augmentation
Dheeraj Mekala | Tu Vu | Timo Schick | Jingbo Shang
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

The ability of generative language models (GLMs) to generate text has improved considerably in the last few years, enabling their use for generative data augmentation. In this work, we propose CONDA, an approach to further improve GLM’s ability to generate synthetic data by reformulating data generation as context generation for a given question-answer (QA) pair and leveraging QA datasets for training context generators. Then, we cast downstream tasks into the same question answering format and adapt the fine-tuned context generators to the target task domain. Finally, we use the fine-tuned GLM to generate relevant contexts, which are in turn used as synthetic training data for their corresponding tasks. We perform extensive experiments on multiple classification datasets and demonstrate substantial improvements in performance for both few- and zero-shot settings. Our analysis reveals that QA datasets that require high-level reasoning abilities (e.g., abstractive and common-sense QA datasets) tend to give the best boost in performance in both few-shot and zero-shot settings.

2021

pdf bib
Exploiting Cloze-Questions for Few-Shot Text Classification and Natural Language Inference
Timo Schick | Hinrich Schütze
Proceedings of the 16th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Main Volume

Some NLP tasks can be solved in a fully unsupervised fashion by providing a pretrained language model with “task descriptions” in natural language (e.g., Radford et al., 2019). While this approach underperforms its supervised counterpart, we show in this work that the two ideas can be combined: We introduce Pattern-Exploiting Training (PET), a semi-supervised training procedure that reformulates input examples as cloze-style phrases to help language models understand a given task. These phrases are then used to assign soft labels to a large set of unlabeled examples. Finally, standard supervised training is performed on the resulting training set. For several tasks and languages, PET outperforms supervised training and strong semi-supervised approaches in low-resource settings by a large margin.

pdf bib
It’s Not Just Size That Matters: Small Language Models Are Also Few-Shot Learners
Timo Schick | Hinrich Schütze
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies

When scaled to hundreds of billions of parameters, pretrained language models such as GPT-3 (Brown et al., 2020) achieve remarkable few-shot performance. However, enormous amounts of compute are required for training and applying such big models, resulting in a large carbon footprint and making it difficult for researchers and practitioners to use them. We show that performance similar to GPT-3 can be obtained with language models that are much “greener” in that their parameter count is several orders of magnitude smaller. This is achieved by converting textual inputs into cloze questions that contain a task description, combined with gradient-based optimization; exploiting unlabeled data gives further improvements. We identify key factors required for successful natural language understanding with small language models.

pdf bib
Few-Shot Text Generation with Natural Language Instructions
Timo Schick | Hinrich Schütze
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Providing pretrained language models with simple task descriptions in natural language enables them to solve some tasks in a fully unsupervised fashion. Moreover, when combined with regular learning from examples, this idea yields impressive few-shot results for a wide range of text classification tasks. It is also a promising direction to improve data efficiency in generative settings, but there are several challenges to using a combination of task descriptions and example-based learning for text generation. In particular, it is crucial to find task descriptions that are easy to understand for the pretrained model and to ensure that it actually makes good use of them; furthermore, effective measures against overfitting have to be implemented. In this paper, we show how these challenges can be tackled: We introduce GenPET, a method for text generation that is based on pattern-exploiting training, a recent approach for combining textual instructions with supervised learning that only works for classification tasks. On several summarization and headline generation datasets, GenPET gives consistent improvements over strong baselines in few-shot settings.

pdf bib
Generating Datasets with Pretrained Language Models
Timo Schick | Hinrich Schütze
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

To obtain high-quality sentence embeddings from pretrained language models (PLMs), they must either be augmented with additional pretraining objectives or finetuned on a large set of labeled text pairs. While the latter approach typically outperforms the former, it requires great human effort to generate suitable datasets of sufficient size. In this paper, we show how PLMs can be leveraged to obtain high-quality sentence embeddings without the need for labeled data, finetuning or modifications to the pretraining objective: We utilize the generative abilities of large and high-performing PLMs to generate entire datasets of labeled text pairs from scratch, which we then use for finetuning much smaller and more efficient models. Our fully unsupervised approach outperforms strong baselines on several semantic textual similarity datasets.

pdf bib
Self-Diagnosis and Self-Debiasing: A Proposal for Reducing Corpus-Based Bias in NLP
Timo Schick | Sahana Udupa | Hinrich Schütze
Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Volume 9

This paper contains prompts and model outputs that are offensive in nature. When trained on large, unfiltered crawls from the Internet, language models pick up and reproduce all kinds of undesirable biases that can be found in the data: They often generate racist, sexist, violent, or otherwise toxic language. As large models require millions of training examples to achieve good performance, it is difficult to completely prevent them from being exposed to such content. In this paper, we first demonstrate a surprising finding: Pretrained language models recognize, to a considerable degree, their undesirable biases and the toxicity of the content they produce. We refer to this capability as self-diagnosis. Based on this finding, we then propose a decoding algorithm that, given only a textual description of the undesired behavior, reduces the probability of a language model producing problematic text. We refer to this approach as self-debiasing. Self-debiasing does not rely on manually curated word lists, nor does it require any training data or changes to the model’s parameters. While we by no means eliminate the issue of language models generating biased text, we believe our approach to be an important step in this direction.1

2020

pdf bib
BERTRAM: Improved Word Embeddings Have Big Impact on Contextualized Model Performance
Timo Schick | Hinrich Schütze
Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics

Pretraining deep language models has led to large performance gains in NLP. Despite this success, Schick and Schütze (2020) recently showed that these models struggle to understand rare words. For static word embeddings, this problem has been addressed by separately learning representations for rare words. In this work, we transfer this idea to pretrained language models: We introduce BERTRAM, a powerful architecture based on BERT that is capable of inferring high-quality embeddings for rare words that are suitable as input representations for deep language models. This is achieved by enabling the surface form and contexts of a word to interact with each other in a deep architecture. Integrating BERTRAM into BERT leads to large performance increases due to improved representations of rare and medium frequency words on both a rare word probing task and three downstream tasks.

pdf bib
Automatically Identifying Words That Can Serve as Labels for Few-Shot Text Classification
Timo Schick | Helmut Schmid | Hinrich Schütze
Proceedings of the 28th International Conference on Computational Linguistics

A recent approach for few-shot text classification is to convert textual inputs to cloze questions that contain some form of task description, process them with a pretrained language model and map the predicted words to labels. Manually defining this mapping between words and labels requires both domain expertise and an understanding of the language model’s abilities. To mitigate this issue, we devise an approach that automatically finds such a mapping given small amounts of training data. For a number of tasks, the mapping found by our approach performs almost as well as hand-crafted label-to-word mappings.

2019

pdf bib
Attentive Mimicking: Better Word Embeddings by Attending to Informative Contexts
Timo Schick | Hinrich Schütze
Proceedings of the 2019 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies, Volume 1 (Long and Short Papers)

Learning high-quality embeddings for rare words is a hard problem because of sparse context information. Mimicking (Pinter et al., 2017) has been proposed as a solution: given embeddings learned by a standard algorithm, a model is first trained to reproduce embeddings of frequent words from their surface form and then used to compute embeddings for rare words. In this paper, we introduce attentive mimicking: the mimicking model is given access not only to a word’s surface form, but also to all available contexts and learns to attend to the most informative and reliable contexts for computing an embedding. In an evaluation on four tasks, we show that attentive mimicking outperforms previous work for both rare and medium-frequency words. Thus, compared to previous work, attentive mimicking improves embeddings for a much larger part of the vocabulary, including the medium-frequency range.