Tables are often created with hierarchies, but existing works on table reasoning mainly focus on flat tables and neglect hierarchical tables. Hierarchical tables challenge numerical reasoning by complex hierarchical indexing, as well as implicit relationships of calculation and semantics. We present a new dataset, HiTab, to study question answering (QA) and natural language generation (NLG) over hierarchical tables. HiTab is a cross-domain dataset constructed from a wealth of statistical reports and Wikipedia pages, and has unique characteristics: (1) nearly all tables are hierarchical, and (2) QA pairs are not proposed by annotators from scratch, but are revised from real and meaningful sentences authored by analysts. (3) to reveal complex numerical reasoning in statistical reports, we provide fine-grained annotations of quantity and entity alignment. Experiments suggest that this HiTab presents a strong challenge for existing baselines and a valuable benchmark for future research. Targeting hierarchical structure, we devise a hierarchy-aware logical form for symbolic reasoning over tables, which shows high effectiveness. Targeting table reasoning, we leverage entity and quantity alignment to explore partially supervised training in QA and conditional generation in NLG, and largely reduce spurious predictions in QA and produce better descriptions in NLG.
Tables are an important form of structured data for both human and machine readers alike, providing answers to questions that cannot, or cannot easily, be found in texts. Recent work has designed special models and training paradigms for table-related tasks such as table-based question answering and table retrieval. Though effective, they add complexity in both modeling and data acquisition compared to generic text solutions and obscure which elements are truly beneficial. In this work, we focus on the task of table retrieval, and ask: “is table-specific model design necessary for table retrieval, or can a simpler text-based model be effectively used to achieve a similar result?’’ First, we perform an analysis on a table-based portion of the Natural Questions dataset (NQ-table), and find that structure plays a negligible role in more than 70% of the cases. Based on this, we experiment with a general Dense Passage Retriever (DPR) based on text and a specialized Dense Table Retriever (DTR) that uses table-specific model designs. We find that DPR performs well without any table-specific design and training, and even achieves superior results compared to DTR when fine-tuned on properly linearized tables. We then experiment with three modules to explicitly encode table structures, namely auxiliary row/column embeddings, hard attention masks, and soft relation-based attention biases. However, none of these yielded significant improvements, suggesting that table-specific model design may not be necessary for table retrieval.
Pre-trained language models like BERT have proven to be highly performant. However, they are often computationally expensive in many practical scenarios, for such heavy models can hardly be readily implemented with limited resources. To improve their efficiency with an assured model performance, we propose a novel speed-tunable FastBERT with adaptive inference time. The speed at inference can be flexibly adjusted under varying demands, while redundant calculation of samples is avoided. Moreover, this model adopts a unique self-distillation mechanism at fine-tuning, further enabling a greater computational efficacy with minimal loss in performance. Our model achieves promising results in twelve English and Chinese datasets. It is able to speed up by a wide range from 1 to 12 times than BERT if given different speedup thresholds to make a speed-performance tradeoff.