Xin Zhou


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Coarse-to-fine Few-shot Learning for Named Entity Recognition
Ruotian Ma | Zhang Lin | Xuanting Chen | Xin Zhou | Junzhe Wang | Tao Gui | Qi Zhang | Xiang Gao | Yun Wen Chen
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: ACL 2023

Recently, Few-shot Named Entity Recognition has received wide attention with the growing need for NER models to learn new classes with minimized annotation costs. However, one common yet understudied situation is to transfer a model trained with coarse-grained classes to recognize fine-grained classes, such as separating a product category into sub-classes. We find that existing few-shot NER solutions are not suitable for such a situation since they do not consider the sub-class discrimination during coarse training and various granularity of new classes during few-shot learning. In this work, we introduce the Coarse-to-fine Few-shot NER (C2FNER) task and propose an effective solution. Specifically, during coarse training, we propose a cluster-based prototype margin loss to learn group-wise discriminative representations, so as to benefit fine-grained learning. Targeting various granularity of new classes, we separate the coarse classes into extra-fine clusters and propose a novel prototype retrieval and bootstrapping algorithm to retrieve representative clusters for each fine class. We then adopt a mixture prototype loss to efficiently learn the representations of fine classes. We conduct experiments on both in-domain and cross-domain C2FNER settings with various target granularity, and the proposed method shows superior performance over the baseline methods.

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TextObfuscator: Making Pre-trained Language Model a Privacy Protector via Obfuscating Word Representations
Xin Zhou | Yi Lu | Ruotian Ma | Tao Gui | Yuran Wang | Yong Ding | Yibo Zhang | Qi Zhang | Xuanjing Huang
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: ACL 2023

In real-world applications, pre-trained language models are typically deployed on the cloud, allowing clients to upload data and perform compute-intensive inference remotely. To avoid sharing sensitive data directly with service providers, clients can upload numerical representations rather than plain text to the cloud. However, recent text reconstruction techniques have demonstrated that it is possible to transform representations into original words, suggesting that privacy risk remains. In this paper, we propose TextObfuscator, a novel framework for protecting inference privacy by applying random perturbations to clustered representations. The random perturbations make the representations indistinguishable from surrounding clustered representations, thus obscuring word information while retaining the original word functionality. To achieve this, we utilize prototypes to learn clustered representation, where tokens of similar functionality are encouraged to be closer to the same prototype during training. Additionally, we design different methods to find prototypes for token-level and sentence-level tasks, which can improve performance by incorporating semantic and task information. Experimental results on token and sentence classification tasks show that TextObfuscator achieves improvement over compared methods without increasing inference cost.

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TextMixer: Mixing Multiple Inputs for Privacy-Preserving Inference
Xin Zhou | Yi Lu | Ruotian Ma | Tao Gui | Qi Zhang | Xuanjing Huang
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2023

Pre-trained language models (PLMs) are often deployed as cloud services, enabling users to upload textual data and perform inference remotely. However, users’ personal text often contains sensitive information, and sharing such data directly with the service providers can lead to serious privacy leakage. To address this problem, we introduce a novel privacy-preserving inference framework called MixPi , which prevents plaintext leakage during the inference phase. Inspired by k-anonymity, MixPi aims to obfuscate a user’s private input by mixing it with multiple other inputs, thereby confounding potential privacy attackers. To achieve this, our approach involves: (1) proposing a novel encryption module, Privacy Mixer, which encrypts input from three distinct dimensions: mixing, representation, and position. (2) adopting a pre-trained Multi-input Multi-output network to handle mixed representations and obtain multiple predictions. (3) employing a Privacy Demixer to ensure only the user can decrypt the real output among the multiple predictions. Furthermore, we explore different ways to automatically generate synthetic inputs required for mixing. Experimental results on token and sentence classification tasks demonstrate that MixPi greatly surpasses existing privacy-preserving methods in both performance and privacy.

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Towards Building More Robust NER datasets: An Empirical Study on NER Dataset Bias from a Dataset Difficulty View
Ruotian Ma | Xiaolei Wang | Xin Zhou | Qi Zhang | Xuanjing Huang
Proceedings of the 2023 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Recently, many studies have illustrated the robustness problem of Named Entity Recognition (NER) systems: the NER models often rely on superficial entity patterns for predictions, without considering evidence from the context. Consequently, even state-of-the-art NER models generalize poorly to out-of-domain scenarios when out-of-distribution (OOD) entity patterns are introduced. Previous research attributes the robustness problem to the existence of NER dataset bias, where simpler and regular entity patterns induce shortcut learning. In this work, we bring new insights into this problem by comprehensively investigating the NER dataset bias from a dataset difficulty view. We quantify the entity-context difficulty distribution in existing datasets and explain their relationship with model robustness. Based on our findings, we explore three potential ways to de-bias the NER datasets by altering entity-context distribution, and we validate the feasibility with intensive experiments. Finally, we show that the de-biased datasets can transfer to different models and even benefit existing model-based robustness-improving methods, indicating that building more robust datasets is fundamental for building more robust NER systems.

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Rethinking Negative Pairs in Code Search
Haochen Li | Xin Zhou | Anh Luu | Chunyan Miao
Proceedings of the 2023 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Recently, contrastive learning has become a key component in fine-tuning code search models for software development efficiency and effectiveness. It pulls together positive code snippets while pushing negative samples away given search queries. Among contrastive learning, InfoNCE is the most widely used loss function due to its better performance. However, the following problems in negative samples of InfoNCE may deteriorate its representation learning: 1) The existence of false negative samples in large code corpora due to duplications. 2). The failure to explicitly differentiate between the potential relevance of negative samples. As an example, a bubble sorting algorithm example is less “negative” than a file saving function for the quick sorting algorithm query. In this paper, we tackle the above problems by proposing a simple yet effective Soft-InfoNCE loss that inserts weight terms into InfoNCE. In our proposed loss function, we apply three methods to estimate the weights of negative pairs and show that the vanilla InfoNCE loss is a special case of Soft-InfoNCE. Theoretically, we analyze the effects of Soft-InfoNCE on controlling the distribution of learnt code representations and on deducing a more precise mutual information estimation. We furthermore discuss the superiority of proposed loss functions with other design alternatives. Extensive experiments demonstrate the effectiveness of Soft-InfoNCE and weights estimation methods under state-of-the-art code search models on a large-scale public dataset consisting of six programming languages.

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Learning “O” Helps for Learning More: Handling the Unlabeled Entity Problem for Class-incremental NER
Ruotian Ma | Xuanting Chen | Zhang Lin | Xin Zhou | Junzhe Wang | Tao Gui | Qi Zhang | Xiang Gao | Yun Wen Chen
Proceedings of the 61st Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (Volume 1: Long Papers)

As the categories of named entities rapidly increase, the deployed NER models are required to keep updating toward recognizing more entity types, creating a demand for class-incremental learning for NER. Considering the privacy concerns and storage constraints, the standard paradigm for class-incremental NER updates the models with training data only annotated with the new classes, yet the entities from other entity classes are regarded as “Non-entity” (or “O”). In this work, we conduct an empirical study on the “Unlabeled Entity Problem” and find that it leads to severe confusion between “O” and entities, decreasing class discrimination of old classes and declining the model’s ability to learn new classes. To solve the Unlabeled Entity Problem, we propose a novel representation learning method to learn discriminative representations for the entity classes and “O”. Specifically, we propose an entity-aware contrastive learning method that adaptively detects entity clusters in “O”. Furthermore, we propose two effective distance-based relabeling strategies for better learning the old classes. We introduce a more realistic and challenging benchmark for class-incremental NER, and the proposed method achieves up to 10.62% improvement over the baseline methods.


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LFKQG: A Controlled Generation Framework with Local Fine-tuning for Question Generation over Knowledge Bases
Zichu Fei | Xin Zhou | Tao Gui | Qi Zhang | Xuanjing Huang
Proceedings of the 29th International Conference on Computational Linguistics

Question generation over knowledge bases (KBQG) aims at generating natural questions about a subgraph, which can be answered by a given answer entity. Existing KBQG models still face two main challenges: (1) Most models often focus on the most relevant part of the answer entity, while neglecting the rest of the subgraph. (2) There are a large number of out-of-vocabulary (OOV) predicates in real-world scenarios, which are hard to adapt for most KBQG models. To address these challenges, we propose LFKQG, a controlled generation framework for Question Generation over Knowledge Bases. (1) LFKQG employs a simple controlled generation method to generate the questions containing the critical entities in the subgraph, ensuring the question is relevant to the whole subgraph. (2) We propose an optimization strategy called local fine-tuning, which can make good use of the rich information hidden in the pre-trained model to improve the ability of the model to adapt the OOV predicates. Extensive experiments show that our method outperforms existing methods significantly on three widely-used benchmark datasets SimpleQuestion, PathQuestions, and WebQuestions.

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Making Parameter-efficient Tuning More Efficient: A Unified Framework for Classification Tasks
Xin Zhou | Ruotian Ma | Yicheng Zou | Xuanting Chen | Tao Gui | Qi Zhang | Xuanjing Huang | Rui Xie | Wei Wu
Proceedings of the 29th International Conference on Computational Linguistics

Large pre-trained language models (PLMs) have demonstrated superior performance in industrial applications. Recent studies have explored parameter-efficient PLM tuning, which only updates a small amount of task-specific parameters while achieving both high efficiency and comparable performance against standard fine-tuning. However, all these methods ignore the inefficiency problem caused by the task-specific output layers, which is inflexible for us to re-use PLMs and introduces non-negligible parameters. In this work, we focus on the text classification task and propose plugin-tuning, a framework that further improves the efficiency of existing parameter-efficient methods with a unified classifier. Specifically, we re-formulate both token and sentence classification tasks into a unified language modeling task, and map label spaces of different tasks into the same vocabulary space. In this way, we can directly re-use the language modeling heads of PLMs, avoiding introducing extra parameters for different tasks. We conduct experiments on six classification benchmarks. The experimental results show that plugin-tuning can achieve comparable performance against fine-tuned PLMs, while further saving around 50% parameters on top of other parameter-efficient methods.

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Template-free Prompt Tuning for Few-shot NER
Ruotian Ma | Xin Zhou | Tao Gui | Yiding Tan | Linyang Li | Qi Zhang | Xuanjing Huang
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies

Prompt-based methods have been successfully applied in sentence-level few-shot learning tasks, mostly owing to the sophisticated design of templates and label words. However, when applied to token-level labeling tasks such as NER, it would be time-consuming to enumerate the template queries over all potential entity spans. In this work, we propose a more elegant method to reformulate NER tasks as LM problems without any templates. Specifically, we discard the template construction process while maintaining the word prediction paradigm of pre-training models to predict a class-related pivot word (or label word) at the entity position. Meanwhile, we also explore principled ways to automatically search for appropriate label words that the pre-trained models can easily adapt to. While avoiding the complicated template-based process, the proposed LM objective also reduces the gap between different objectives used in pre-training and fine-tuning, thus it can better benefit the few-shot performance. Experimental results demonstrate the effectiveness of the proposed method over bert-tagger and template-based method under few-shot settings. Moreover, the decoding speed of the proposed method is up to 1930.12 times faster than the template-based method.

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TextFusion: Privacy-Preserving Pre-trained Model Inference via Token Fusion
Xin Zhou | Jinzhu Lu | Tao Gui | Ruotian Ma | Zichu Fei | Yuran Wang | Yong Ding | Yibo Cheung | Qi Zhang | Xuanjing Huang
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Recently, more and more pre-trained language models are released as a cloud service. It allows users who lack computing resources to perform inference with a powerful model by uploading data to the cloud. The plain text may contain private information, as the result, users prefer to do partial computations locally and upload intermediate representations to the cloud for subsequent inference. However, recent studies have shown that intermediate representations can also be recovered to plain text with reasonable accuracy, thus the risk of privacy leakage still exists. To address this issue, we propose TextFusion, a novel method for preserving inference privacy. Specifically, we train a Fusion Predictor to dynamically fuse token representations, which hides multiple private token representations behind an unrecognizable one. Furthermore, an adversarial training regime is employed to privatize these representations. In this way, the cloud only receives incomplete and perturbed representations, making it difficult to accurately recover the complete plain text. The experimental results on diverse classification tasks show that our approach can effectively preserve inference privacy without significantly sacrificing performance in different scenarios.

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ProofInfer: Generating Proof via Iterative Hierarchical Inference
Zichu Fei | Qi Zhang | Xin Zhou | Tao Gui | Xuanjing Huang
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Proof generation focuses on deductive reasoning: given a hypothesis and a set of theories, including some supporting facts and logical rules expressed in natural language, the model generates a proof tree indicating how to deduce the hypothesis from given theories. Current models with state-of-the-art performance employ the stepwise method that adds an individual node to the proof step-by-step. However, these methods actually focus on generating several proof paths rather than a whole tree. During generation, they focus on the most relevant areas of the currently generated node while neglecting the rest of the proof tree. To address this problem, we propose ProofInfer, which generates the proof tree via iterative hierarchical inference. At each step, ProofInfer adds the entire layer to the proof, where all nodes in this layer are generated simultaneously. Since the conventional autoregressive generation architecture cannot simultaneously predict multiple nodes, ProofInfer employs text-to-text paradigm. To this end, we propose a divide-and-conquer algorithm to encode the proof tree as the plain text without losing structure information. Experimental results show that ProofInfer significantly improves performance on several widely-used datasets. In addition, ProofInfer still performs well with data-limited, achieving comparable performance to the state-of-the-art model with about 40% of the training data.


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TextFlint: Unified Multilingual Robustness Evaluation Toolkit for Natural Language Processing
Xiao Wang | Qin Liu | Tao Gui | Qi Zhang | Yicheng Zou | Xin Zhou | Jiacheng Ye | Yongxin Zhang | Rui Zheng | Zexiong Pang | Qinzhuo Wu | Zhengyan Li | Chong Zhang | Ruotian Ma | Zichu Fei | Ruijian Cai | Jun Zhao | Xingwu Hu | Zhiheng Yan | Yiding Tan | Yuan Hu | Qiyuan Bian | Zhihua Liu | Shan Qin | Bolin Zhu | Xiaoyu Xing | Jinlan Fu | Yue Zhang | Minlong Peng | Xiaoqing Zheng | Yaqian Zhou | Zhongyu Wei | Xipeng Qiu | Xuanjing Huang
Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics and the 11th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing: System Demonstrations

TextFlint is a multilingual robustness evaluation toolkit for NLP tasks that incorporates universal text transformation, task-specific transformation, adversarial attack, subpopulation, and their combinations to provide comprehensive robustness analyses. This enables practitioners to automatically evaluate their models from various aspects or to customize their evaluations as desired with just a few lines of code. TextFlint also generates complete analytical reports as well as targeted augmented data to address the shortcomings of the model in terms of its robustness. To guarantee acceptability, all the text transformations are linguistically based and all the transformed data selected (up to 100,000 texts) scored highly under human evaluation. To validate the utility, we performed large-scale empirical evaluations (over 67,000) on state-of-the-art deep learning models, classic supervised methods, and real-world systems. The toolkit is already available at with all the evaluation results demonstrated at


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Mapping Natural Language Instructions to Mobile UI Action Sequences
Yang Li | Jiacong He | Xin Zhou | Yuan Zhang | Jason Baldridge
Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics

We present a new problem: grounding natural language instructions to mobile user interface actions, and create three new datasets for it. For full task evaluation, we create PixelHelp, a corpus that pairs English instructions with actions performed by people on a mobile UI emulator. To scale training, we decouple the language and action data by (a) annotating action phrase spans in How-To instructions and (b) synthesizing grounded descriptions of actions for mobile user interfaces. We use a Transformer to extract action phrase tuples from long-range natural language instructions. A grounding Transformer then contextually represents UI objects using both their content and screen position and connects them to object descriptions. Given a starting screen and instruction, our model achieves 70.59% accuracy on predicting complete ground-truth action sequences in PixelHelp.

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Cross Copy Network for Dialogue Generation
Changzhen Ji | Xin Zhou | Yating Zhang | Xiaozhong Liu | Changlong Sun | Conghui Zhu | Tiejun Zhao
Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP)

In the past few years, audiences from different fields witness the achievements of sequence-to-sequence models (e.g., LSTM+attention, Pointer Generator Networks and Transformer) to enhance dialogue content generation. While content fluency and accuracy often serve as the major indicators for model training, dialogue logics, carrying critical information for some particular domains, are often ignored. Take customer service and court debate dialogue as examples, compatible logics can be observed across different dialogue instances, and this information can provide vital evidence for utterance generation. In this paper, we propose a novel network architecture - Cross Copy Networks (CCN) to explore the current dialog context and similar dialogue instances’ logical structure simultaneously. Experiments with two tasks, court debate and customer service content generation, proved that the proposed algorithm is superior to existing state-of-art content generation models.


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Alibaba at IJCNLP-2017 Task 2: A Boosted Deep System for Dimensional Sentiment Analysis of Chinese Phrases
Xin Zhou | Jian Wang | Xu Xie | Changlong Sun | Luo Si
Proceedings of the IJCNLP 2017, Shared Tasks

This paper introduces Team Alibaba’s systems participating IJCNLP 2017 shared task No. 2 Dimensional Sentiment Analysis for Chinese Phrases (DSAP). The systems mainly utilize a multi-layer neural networks, with multiple features input such as word embedding, part-of-speech-tagging (POST), word clustering, prefix type, character embedding, cross sentiment input, and AdaBoost method for model training. For word level task our best run achieved MAE 0.545 (ranked 2nd), PCC 0.892 (ranked 2nd) in valence prediction and MAE 0.857 (ranked 1st), PCC 0.678 (ranked 2nd) in arousal prediction. For average performance of word and phrase task we achieved MAE 0.5355 (ranked 3rd), PCC 0.8965 (ranked 3rd) in valence prediction and MAE 0.661 (ranked 3rd), PCC 0.766 (ranked 2nd) in arousal prediction. In the final our submitted system achieved 2nd in mean rank.