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74 Summaries of Machine Learning and NLP Research

My previous post on summarising 57 research papers turned out to be quite useful for people working in this field, so it is about time for a sequel.

Below you will find short summaries of a number of different research papers published in the areas of Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing in the past couple of years (2017-2019). They cover a wide range of different topics, authors and venues. These are not meant to be reviews showing my subjective opinion, but instead I aim to provide a blunt and concise overview of the core contribution of each publication.

Given how many papers are published in our area every year, it is getting more and more difficult to keep track of all of them. The goal of this post is to save some time for both new and experienced readers in the field and allow them to get a quick overview of 74 research papers in about 30 minutes reading time.

I set out to post 60 summaries (up from 50 compared to last time). At the end, I also include the summaries for my own published papers since the last iteration (papers 61-74).

Here we go.

1. Improving Language Understanding by Generative Pre-Training

Alec Radford, Karthik Narasimhan, Tim Salimans, Ilya Sutskever. OpenAI. 2018.
https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/openai-assets/research-covers/language-unsupervised/language_understanding_paper.pdf

A transformer architecture that is trained as a language model on a large corpus, then fine-tuned for individual text classification and similarity tasks. Multiple sentences are combined together into a single sequence using delimiters in order to work with the same model. Reporting high results on entailment, question answering and semantic similarity tasks.

2. BERT: Pre-training of Deep Bidirectional Transformers for Language Understanding

Jacob Devlin, Ming-Wei Chang, Kenton Lee, Kristina Toutanova. Google. NAACL 2019.
https://www.aclweb.org/anthology/N19-1423.pdf

A bidirectional transformer architecture for pre-training language representations. The model is optimized on unlabaled data by 1) predicting masked words in the input sequence, and 2) predicting whether the input sequences occur together. The parameters can then be fine-tuned for a specific task, such as classifying sentences, sentence pairs, or tokens.

3. LXMERT: Learning Cross-Modality Encoder Representations from Transformers

Hao Tan, Mohit Bansal. UNC. ArXiv 2019.
https://arxiv.org/pdf/1908.07490.pdf

Building a cross-modal pre-trained model for both vision and language. Both images and text are encoded and attended over jointly with a cross-modal encoder, the model is then optimized with both unimodal and multimodal tasks (masked LM, image classification, image-caption matching, visual QA).
The model achieves new state-of-the-art on several VQA datasets.

The Geographic Diversity of NLP Conferences

The growth of interest in NLP technology, fuelled largely by investment in AI applications, has been accompanied by unprecedented expansion of the preeminent NLP conferences: ACL, NAACL and EMNLP in particular. Grzegorz Chrupała’s graph shows the rapid growth in submissions to each conference in recent years:

Figure 1. Graph of conference submission counts, by Grzegorz Chrupała

These trends can also be seen in the blog post by the ACL 2019 Chairs. Meanwhile, acceptance rates have tended to remain constant, meaning that the conferences have grown in line with submissions, e.g. from ACL 2019:

Table 1. Acceptance rates at ACL 2019.

NLP has developed as a field narrowly focused on English, a point highlighted by the recent emergence (and need for) the #BenderRule. The ability of NLP models to deal with English is important, due to its status as an international language of politics, commerce and culture, and indeed with these tools we can handle, for instance, more than half the content on the internet. But with such a strong focus on English we miss cross-linguistic insights and lack coverage for the majority of languages in the world.

ML and NLP Publications in 2018

It is time for another yearly update of the publication statistics in Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing. The field has continued to grow very rapidly, both in number of publications and number of attendees, breaking all sorts of previous records. Perhaps most notably the initial release of NeurIPS conference tickets sold out in 11 minutes and 38 seconds. In this post I will provide some finer-grained statistics on these numbers, showing which authors and organizations are publishing most at specific conferences.

This year, I have included the following conferences/journals: ACL, EMNLP, NAACL, EACL, COLING, TACL, CL, CoNLL, NeurIPS, ICML, ICLR, AAAI. This selection aims to cover the most well-known and high-ranking venues for publishing work on both machine learning and language technologies. Compared to last year, I've removed SemEval, as it has a large focus on shared task papers and I'm not including these for other conferences either. I've also added AAAI, which is one of the bigger conferences and was previously missing from the rankings. NeurIPS (previously known as NIPS) changed its name this year, but for consistency I will use the new name to refer to all the previous iterations as well.

This analysis is done automatically with a collection of scripts that I've continued to improve over the years. The paper lists are crawled from online proceedings and author names can usually be found there as well. Organization names need to be extracted straight from the PDFs which can lead to quite a bit of noise. I've created various methods for detecting and mapping different types of names, but let me know if you spot any remaining errors.

While this post highlights authors and organizations who have published the most in the recent year, I want to specify that I do not think that publication quantity is something that we as a field should be pursuing or rewarding. As the graphs below show, the field is becoming more and more popular, and this rapid increase in numbers comes with very varying quality. Authoring 1 piece of groundbreaking work is always better than releasing 10 totally forgettable incremental papers. This post is just meant to give a light high-level view of who is currently publishing and at which conferences, and perhaps provide a bit of inspiration for new researchers with great ideas.

Venues

We start off by looking at the publications at all the conferences between 2012-2018. Most of the ML venues continued their growth in the number of published papers, with AAAI and NeurIPS going past the 1,000 paper mark. EMNLP and NAACL also had their record years by quite a margin, whereas ACL and COLING stayed closer to the previous numbers. EACL took this year to rest, and the number of papers in TACL and CL has remained relatively stable throughout the years.

57 Summaries of Machine Learning and NLP Research

Staying on top of recent work is an important part of being a good researcher, but this can be quite difficult. Thousands of new papers are published every year at the main ML and NLP conferences, not to mention all the specialised workshops and everything that shows up on ArXiv. Going through all of them, even just to find the papers that you want to read in more depth, can be very time-consuming.

In this post, I have summarised 50 papers. After going through a paper, if I had the chance, I would write down a few notes and summarise the work in a couple of sentences. These are not meant as reviews – I’m not commenting on whether I think the paper is good or not. But I do try to present the crux of the paper as bluntly as possible, without unnecessary sales tactics. Hopefully this can give you the general idea of 50 papers, in roughly 20 minutes of reading time.

The papers are not selected or ordered based on any criteria. It is not a list of the best papers I have read, more like a random sample. The only filter that I applied was to exclude papers older than 2016, as the goal is to give an overview of the more recent work.

I set out to summarise 50 papers. Once I was done, I thought this would be a sensible place to summarise my own work as well. So at the end of the list you will also find brief summaries of the papers I published in 2017.

Let’s get started.

1. A Thorough Examination of the CNN/Daily Mail Reading Comprehension Task
Danqi Chen, Jason Bolton, Christopher D. Manning. Stanford. ACL 2016.
https://arxiv.org/pdf/1606.02858.pdf

Hermann et al (2015) created a dataset for testing reading comprehension by extracting summarised bullet points from CNN and Daily Mail. All the entities in the text are anonymised and the task is to place correct entities into empty slots based on the news article.

cnn_daily_mail

This paper has hand-reviewed 100 samples from the dataset and concludes that around 25% of the questions are difficult or impossible to answer even for a human, mostly due to the anonymisation process. They present a simple classifier that achieves unexpectedly good results, and a neural network based on attention that beats all previous results by quite a margin.

2. Word Translation Without Parallel Data
Alexis Conneau, Guillaume Lample, Marc’Aurelio Ranzato, Ludovic Denoyer, Hervé Jégou. Facebook, Le Mans, Sorbonne. ArXiv 2017.
https://arxiv.org/pdf/1710.04087.pdf

Inducing word translations using only monolingual corpora for two languages. Separate embeddings are trained for each language and a mapping is learned though an adversarial objective, along with an orthogonality constraint on the most frequent words. A strategy for an unsupervised stopping criterion is also proposed.

Word Translation Without Parallel Data

ML/NLP Publications in 2017

It has been a very productive year for NLP and ML research. Both areas continued to grow, with conferences reaching record numbers of publications. In this post I will break these numbers down a bit more, by individual authors and organisations. The statistics cover the following venues: ACL, EMNLP, NAACL, EACL, COLING, TACL, CL, CoNLL, *Sem+SemEval, NIPS, ICML, ICLR. Compared to last year, I’ve now included ICLR which has grown very rapidly in the last two years and become a highly competitive conference.

The analysis is done automatically, by crawling publication information from the conference websites and ACL Anthology. Author names are usually listed in the proceedings and easily extractable, however the organisation names are more tricky and need to be extracted straight from the PDFs. I’ve created a number of rules to map together alternative names and misspellings, but let me know if you notice any errors.

Venues

First, let’s look at different publication venues between 2012-2017. NIPS is clearly heading off the charts, with 677 publications this year. Most other venues are also growing rapidly, with 2017 being the biggest year ever for ICML, ICLR, EMNLP, EACL and CoNLL. In contrast, TACL and CL seem to be keeping a constant number of publications per year. NAACL and COLING were notably missing from 2017, but we can look forward to both of them in 2018.

Attending to characters in neural sequence labeling models

Word embeddings are great. They allow us to represent words as distributed vectors, such that semantically and functionally similar words have similar representations. Having similar vectors means these words also behave similarly in the model, which is what we want for good generalisation properties.

However, word embeddings have a couple of weaknesses:

  1. If a word doesn’t exist in the training data, we can’t have an embedding for it. Therefore, the best we can do is clump all unseen words together under a single OOV (out-of-vocabulary) token.
  2. If a word only occurs a couple of times, the word embedding likely has very poor quality. We simply don’t have enough information to learn how these words behave in different contexts.
  3. We can’t properly take advantage of character-level patterns. For example, there is no way to learn that all words ending with -ing are likely to be verbs. The best we can do is learn this for each word separately, but that doesn’t help when faced with new or rare words.

In this post I will look at different ways of extending word embeddings with character-level information, in the context of neural sequence labeling models.  You can find more information in the Coling 2016 paper “Attending to characters in neural sequence labeling models“.

Sequence labeling

We’ll investigate word representations in order to improve on the task of sequence labeling. In a sequence labeling setting, a system gets a series of tokens as input and it needs to assign a label to every token. The correct label typically depends on both the context and the token itself. Quite a large number of NLP tasks can be formulated as sequence labeling, for example:

POS-tagging
DT  NN    VBD      NNS    IN      DT   DT  NN     CC  DT  NN   .
The pound extended losses against both the dollar and the euro .

Error detection
+ +    +  x       +   +      +   +    +    x      +
I like to playing the guitar and sing very louder .

Named entity recognition
PER _      _   _      _  ORG  ORG   _  TIME _
Jim bought 300 shares of Acme Corp. in 2006 .

Chunking
B-NP    B-PP B-NP I-NP B-VP I-VP     I-VP I-VP   B-PP B-NP B-NP  O
Service on   the  line is   expected to   resume by   noon today .

In each of these cases, the model needs to understand how a word is being used in a specific context, and could also take advantage of character-level patterns and morphology.

NLP and ML Publications – Looking Back at 2016

After my last post on analysing publication patterns I received quite a lot of feedback and many feature requests, so I decided to create an update once 2016 is over. It is now quite a bit bigger than before, and includes 11 different conferences and journals: ACL, EACL, NAACL, EMNLP, COLING, CL, TACL, CoNLL, *Sem+SemEval, NIPS, and ICML.

The information used in these graphs was collected through crawling the web. ACL Anthology was very useful, listing papers in a consistent format. However, information such as the organisation names in each paper still needed to be extracted directly from the pdfs, which means there are likely to be some errors. I’ve tried to create exceptions to catch different spelling variations and other anomalies, but if you notice mistakes in the graphs, do let me know.

This analysis shouldn’t be taken too seriously – after all, quality of research matters much more than quantity, and that is considerably more difficult to measure. However, my motivation is to provide a high-level overview of what is happening in the field, where the big players are publishing, and perhaps supply a bit of inspiration and motivation for the new year.

Analysing NLP publication patterns

Recently, I got curious about finding out how much different institutions publish in my area. Does Google publish more than Microsoft? Which university has the strongest publication record in NLP? And are there any interesting trends that can be seen in the recent years? Quantity does not necessarily equal quality, but the number of publications is still a reasonable indicator of general activity in the field, how big the research group is, and how outward-facing are the research projects.

My approach was to crawl papers from the 6 biggest conferences that are relevant to my research: ACL, EACL, NAACL, EMNLP, NIPS, ICML. The first 4 focus on NLP applications regardless of methods, and the latter 2 on machine learning algorithms regardless of tasks. The time window was restricted to 2012-2016, as I’m more interested in current publications.

Luckily, all these conferences have nice webpages listing all the papers published there. ACL Anthology contains records for ACL, EACL, NAACL and EMNLP, NIPS has a separate webpage for papers, and ICML proceedings are on the JMLR website (except for ICML12 which are on the conference website). I wrote python scripts that crawled all the papers from these conferences, extracting author names and organisations. While authors can be crawled directly from the websites, in order to find the organisation names I had to parse the pdfs into text and extract anything that looked like a university or company name in the first 30 lines of on the paper. I wrote a bunch of manual patterns to map names to canonical versions (“UCL” to “University College London” and “Google Inc” to “Google”), although it is likely that I still missed some edge cases.

Theano Tutorial

This is an introductory tutorial on using Theano, the Python library. I’m going to start from scratch and assume no previous knowledge of Theano. However, understanding how neural networks work will be useful when getting to the code examples towards the end.

The plan for the tutorial is as follows:

  1. Give a basic introduction to Theano and explain the important concepts.
  2. Go over the main operations that we have available in Theano.
  3. Look at working code examples.

I recently gave this tutorial as a talk in University of Cambridge and it turned out to be way more popular than expected. In order to give more people access to the material, I’m now writing it up as a blog post.

I do not claim to know everything about Theano, and I constantly learn new things myself. If you find any errors or have suggestions on how to improve this tutorial, do let me know.

The code examples can be found in the Github repository: https://github.com/marekrei/theano-tutorial

1. What is Theano?

CYh2GMnWkAELDTL

Theano is a Python library for efficiently handling mathematical expressions involving multi-dimensional arrays (also known as tensors). It is a common choice for implementing neural network models. Theano has been developed in University of Montreal, in a group led by Yoshua Bengio, since 2008.

Some of the features include:

  • automatic differentiation – you only have to implement the forward (prediction) part of the model, and Theano will automatically figure out how to calculate the gradients at various points, allowing you to perform gradient descent for model training.
  • transparent use of a GPU – you can write the same code and run it either on CPU or GPU. More specifically, Theano will figure out which parts of the computation should be moved to the GPU.
  • speed and stability optimisations – Theano will internally reorganise and optimise your computations, in order to make them run faster and be more numerically stable. It will also try to compile some operations into C code, in order to speed up the computation.

Online Representation Learning in Recurrent Neural Language Models

In a basic neural language model, we optimise a fixed set of parameters based on a training corpus, and predictions on an unseen test set are a direct function of these parameters. What if instead of a static model we constantly measured the types of errors the model is making and adjust the parameters accordingly? It would potentially be more closer to how humans operate, constantly making small adjustments in their decisions based on feedback.

The necessary information is already available – language models use the previous word in the sequence as context, which means they know the correct answer for the previous time step (or at least need to assume they know). We can use this to calculate error derivatives at each time step and update parameters even during testing. This sounds like it would require loads of extra computation at test time, but by updating only a small part of the model we can actually get better results with faster execution and fewer parameter.

This post is a summary of my EMNLP 2015 paper “Online Representation Learning in Recurrent Neural Language Models“.

RNNLM

First a short description of the RNN language model that I use as a baseline. It follows the implementation by Mikolov et al. (2011) in the RNNLM Toolkit.

rnnlm

The previous word goes into the network as a 1-hot vector which is then multiplied with a weight matrix, giving us a corresponding word embedding. This, together with the previous hidden state, act as input to the current hidden state of the network:

\(hidden_t = \sigma(E \cdot input_t + W_h \cdot hidden_{t-1})\)