31 August 2010

Online Learning Algorithms that Work Harder

It seems to be a general goal in practical online learning algorithm development to have the updates be very very simply.  Perceptron is probably the simplest, and involves just a few adds.  Winnow takes a few multiplies.  MIRA takes a bit more, but still nothing hugely complicated.  Same with stochastic gradient descent algorithms for, eg., hinge loss.

I think this maybe used to make sense.  I'm not sure that it makes sense any more.  In particular, I would be happier with online algorithms that do more work per data point, but require only one pass over the data.  There are really only two examples I know of: the StreamSVM work that my student Piyush did with me and Suresh, and the confidence-weighted work by Mark Dredze, Koby Crammer and Fernando Pereira (note that they maybe weren't trying to make a one-pass algorithm, but it does seem to work well in that setting).

Why do I feel this way?

Well, if you look even at standard classification tasks, you'll find that if you have a highly optimized, dual threaded implementation of stochastic gradient descent, then your bottleneck becomes I/O, not learning.  This is what John Langford observed in his Vowpal Wabbit implementation.  He has to do multiple passes.  He deals with the I/O bottleneck by creating an I/O friendly, proprietary version of the input file during the first past, and then careening through it on subsequent passes.

In this case, basically what John is seeing is that I/O is too slow.  Or, phrased differently, learning is too fast :).  I never thought I'd say that, but I think it's true.  Especially when you consider that just having two threads is a pretty low requirement these days, it would be nice to put 8 or 16 threads to good use.

But I think the problem is actually quite a bit more severe.  You can tell this by realizing that the idealized world in which binary classifier algorithms usually get developed is, well, idealized.  In particular, someone has already gone through the effort of computing all your features for you.  Even running something simple like a tokenizer, stemmer and stop word remover over documents takes a non-negligible amount of time (to convince yourself: run it over Gigaword and see how long it takes!), easily much longer than a silly perceptron update.

So in the real world, you're probably going to be computing your features and learning on the fly.  (Or at least that's what I always do.)  In which case, if you have a few threads computing features and one thread learning, your learning thread is always going to be stalling, waiting for features.

One way to partially circumvent this is to do a variant of what John does: create a big scratch file as you go and write everything to this file on the first pass, so you can just read from it on subsequent passes.  In fact, I believe this is what Ryan McDonald does in MSTParser (he can correct me in the comments if I'm wrong :P).  I've never tried this myself because I am lazy.  Plus, it adds unnecessary complexity to your code, requires you to chew up disk, and of course adds its own delays since you now have to be writing to disk (which gives you tons of seeks to go back to where you were reading from initially).

A similar problem crops up in structured problems.  Since you usually have to run inference to get a gradient, you end up spending way more time on your inference than your gradients.  (This is similar to the problems you run into when trying to parallelize the structured perceptron.)

Anyway, at the end of the day, I would probably be happier with an online algorithm that spent a little more energy per-example and required fewer passes; I hope someone will invent one for me!

27 August 2010

Calibrating Reviews and Ratings

NIPS decision are going out soon, and then we're done with submitting and reviewing for a blessed few months. Except for journals, of course.

If you're not interested in paper reviews, but are interested in sentiment analysis, please skip the first two paragraphs :).

One thing that anyone who has ever area chaired, or probably even ever reviewed, has noticed is that different people have different "baseline" ratings. Conferences try to adjust for this, for instance NIPS defines their 1-10 rating scale as something like "8 = Top 50% of papers accepted to NIPS" or something like that. Even so, some people are just harsher than others in scoring, and it seems like the area chair's job to calibrate for this. (For instance, I know I tend to be fairly harsh -- I probably only give one 5 (out of 5) for every ten papers I review, and I probably give two or three 1s in the same size batch. I have friends who never give a one -- except in the case of something just being wrong -- and often give 5s. Perhaps I should be nicer; I know CS tends to be harder on itself than other fiends.) As an aside, this is one reason why I'm generally in favor of fewer reviewers and more reviews per reviewer: it allows easier calibration.

There's also the issue of areas. Some areas simply seem to be harder to get papers into than others (which can lead to some gaming of the system). For instance, if I have a "new machine learning technique applied to parsing," do I want it reviewed by parsing people or machine learning people? How do you calibrate across areas, other than by some form of affirmative action for less-represented areas?

A similar phenomenon occurs in sentiment analysis, as was pointed out to me at ACL this year by Franz Och. The example he gives is very nice. If you go to TripAdvisor and look up The French Laundry, which is definitely one of the best restaurants in the U.S. (some people say the best), you'll see that it got 4.0/5.0 stars, and a 79% recommendation. On the other hand, if you look up In'N'Out Burger, a LA-based burger chain (which, having grown up in LA, was admittedly one of my favorite places to eat in high school, back when I ate stuff like that) you see another 4.0/5.0 stars and a 95% recommendation.

So now, we train a machine learning system to predict that the rating for The French Laundry is 79% and In'N'Out Burger is 95%. And we expect this to work?!

Probably the main issue here is calibrating for expectations. As a teacher, I've figured out quickly that managing student expectations is a big part of getting good teaching reviews. If you go to In'N'Out, and have expectations for a Big Mac, you'll be pleasantly surprised. If you go to The French Laundry with expectations of having a meal worth selling your soul, your children's souls, etc., for, then you'll probably be disappointed (though I can't really say: I've never been).

One way that a similar problem has been dealt with on Hotels.com is that they'll show you ratings for the hotel you're looking at, and statistics of ratings for other hotels within a 10 mile radius (or something). You could do something similar for restaurants, though distance probably isn't the right categorization: maybe price. For "$", In'N'Out is probably near the top, and for "$$$$" The French Laundry probably is.

(Anticipating comments, I don't think this is just an "aspect" issue. I don't care how bad your palate is, even just considering the "quality of food" aspect, Laundry has to trump In'N'Out by a large margin.)

I think the problem is that in all of these cases -- papers, restaurants, hotels -- and others (movies, books, etc.) there simply isn't a total order on the "quality" of the objects you're looking at. (For instance, as soon as a book becomes a best seller, or is advocated by Oprah, I am probably less likely to read it.) There is maybe a situation-depend order, and the distance to hotel, or "$" rating, or area classes are heuristics for describing this "situation." Bit without knowing the situation, or having a way to approximate it, I worry that we might be entering a garbage-in-garbage-out scenario here.

23 August 2010

Finite State NLP with Unlabeled Data on Both Sides

(Can you tell, by the recent frequency of posts, that I'm try not to work on getting ready for classes next week?)

[This post is based partially on some conversations with Kevin Duh, though not in the finite state models formalism.]

The finite state machine approach to NLP is very appealing (I mean both string and tree automata) because you get to build little things in isolation and then chain them together in cool ways. Kevin Knight has a great slide about how to put these things together that I can't seem to find right now, but trust me that it's awesome, especially when he explains it to you :).

The other thing that's cool about them is that because you get to build them in isolation, you can use different data sets, which means data sets with different assumptions about the existence of "labels", to build each part. For instance, to do speech to speech transliteration from English to Japanese, you might build a component system like:

English speech --A--> English phonemes --B--> Japanese phonemes --C--> Japanese speech --D--> Japanese speech LM

You'll need a language model (D) for Japanese speech, that can be trained just on acoustic Japanese signals, then parallel Japanese speech/phonemes (for C), parallel English speech/phonemes (for A) and parallel English phonemes/Japanese phonemes (for B). [Plus, of course, if you're missing any of these, EM comes to your rescue!]

Let's take a simpler example, though the point I want to make applies to long chains, too.

Suppose I want to just do translation from French to English. I build an English language model (off of monolingual English text) and then an English-to-French transducer (remember that in the noisy channel, things flip direction). For the E2F transducer, I'll need parallel English/French text, of course. The English LM gives me p(e) and the transducer gives me p(f|e), which I can put together via Bayes' rule to get something proportional to p(e|f), which will let me translate new sentences.

But, presumably, I also have lots of monolingual French text. Forgetting math for a moment, which seems to suggest that this can't help me, we can ask: why should this help?

Well, it probably won't help with my English language model, but it should be able to help with my transducer. Why? Because my transducer is supposed to give me p(f|e). If I have some French sentence in my GigaFrench corpus to which my transducer assigns zero probability (for instance, max_e p(f|e) = 0), then this is probably a sign that something bad is happening.

More generally, I feel like the following two operations should probably give roughly the same probabilities:

  1. Drawing an English sentence from the language model p(e).
  2. Picking a French sentence at random from GigaFrench, and drawing an English sentence from p(e|f), where p(e|f) is the composition of the English LM and the transducer.
If you buy this, then perhaps one thing you could do is to try to learn a transducer q(f|e) that has low KL divergence between 1 and 2, above. If you work through the (short) make, and throw away terms that are independent of the transducer, then you end up wanting to minimize [ sum_e p(e) log sum_f q(f|e) ]. Here, the sum over f is a finite sum over GigaFrench, and the sum over e is an infinite sum over positive probability English sentences given my the English LM p(e).

One could then apply something like posterior regularization (Kuzman Ganchev, Gra├ža and Taskar) to do the learning. There's the nasty bit about how to compute these things, but that's why you get to be friends with Jason Eisner so he can tell you how to do anything you could ever want to do with finite state models.

Anyway, it seems like an interesting idea. I'm definitely not aware if anyone has tried it.

21 August 2010

Readers kill blogs?

I try to avoid making meta-posts, but the timing here was just too impeccable for me to avoid a short post on something that's been bothering me for a year or so.

I actually complete agree with both points. The problem is that I worry that they are actually fairly opposed. I comment much less on other people's blogs now that I use reader, because the 10 second overhead of clicking on the blog, being redirected, entering a comment, blah blah blah, is just too high. Plus, I worry that no one (except the blog author) will see my comment, since most readers don't (by default) show comments in with posts.

Hopefully the architects behind readers will pick up on this and make these things (adding and viewing comments, within the reader -- yes, I realize that it's then not such a "reader") easier. That is, unless they want to lose out to tweets!

Until then, I'd like to encourage people to continue commenting here.

19 August 2010

Multi-task learning: should our hypothesis classes be the same?

It is almost an unspoken assumption in multitask learning (and domain adaptation) that you use the same type of classifier (or, more formally, the same hypothesis class) for all tasks. In NLP-land, this usually means that everything is a linear classifier, and the feature sets are the same for all tasks; in ML-land, this usually means that the same kernel is used for every task. In neural-networks land (ala Rich Caruana), this is enforced by the symmetric structure of the networks used.

I probably would have gone on not even considering this unspoken assumption, until a few years ago I saw a couple papers that challenged it, albeit indirectly. One was Factorizing Complex Models: A Case Study in Mention Detection by Radu (Hans) Florian, Hongyan Jing, Nanda Kambhatla and Imed Zitouni, all from IBM. They're actually considering solving tasks separately rather than jointly, but joint learning and multi-task learning are very closely related. What they see is that different features are useful for spotting entity spans, and for labeling entity types.

That year, or the next, I saw another paper (can't remember who or what -- if someone knows what I'm talking about, please comment!) that basically showed a similar thing, where a linear kernel was doing best for spotting entity spans, and a polynomial kernel was doing best for labeling the entity types (with the same feature sets, if I recall correctly).

Now, to some degree this is not surprising. If I put on my feature engineering hat, then I probably would design slightly different features for these two tasks. On the other hand, coming from a multitask learning perspective, this is surprising: if I believe that these tasks are related, shouldn't I also believe that I can do well solving them in the same hypothesis space?

This raises an important (IMO) question: if I want to allow my hypothesis classes to be different, what can I do?

One way is to punt: you can just concatenate your feature vectors and cross your fingers. Or, more nuanced, you can have some set of shared features and some set of features unique to each task. This is similar (the nuanced version, not the punting version) to what Jenny Finkel and Chris Manning did in their ACL paper this year, Hierarchical Joint Learning: Improving Joint Parsing and Named Entity Recognition with Non-Jointly Labeled Data.

An alternative approach is to let the two classifiers "talk" via unlabeled data. Although motivated differently, this was something of the idea behind my EMNLP 2008 paper on Cross-Task Knowledge-Constrained Self Training, where we run two models on unlabeled data and look for where they "agree."

A final idea that comes to mind, though I don't know if anyone has tried anything like this, would be to try to do some feature extraction over the two data sets. That is, basically think of it as a combination of multi-view learning (since we have two different hypothesis classes) and multi-task learning. Under the assumption that we have access to examples labeled for both tasks simultaneously (i.e., not the settings for either Jenny's paper or my paper), then one could do a 4-way kernel CCA, where data points are represented in terms of their task-1 kernel, task-2 kernel, task-1 label and task-2 label. This would be sort of a blending of CCA-for-multiview-learning and CCA-for-multi-task learning.

I'm not sure what the right way to go about this is, but I think it's something important to consider, especially since it's an assumption that usually goes unstated, even though empirical evidence seems to suggest it's not (always) the right assumption.

02 August 2010

Why Discourse Structure?

I come from a strong lineage of discourse folks. Writing a parser for Rhetorical Structure Theory was one of the first class projects I had when I was a grad student. Recently, with the release of the Penn Discourse Treebank, there has been a bit of a flurry of interest in this problem (I had some snarky comments right after ACL about this). I've also talked about why this is a hard problem, but never really about why it is an interesting problem.

My thinking about discourse has changed a lot over the years. My current thinking about it is in an "interpretation as abduction" sense. (And I sincerely hope all readers know what that means... if not, go back and read some classic papers by Jerry Hobbs.) This is a view I've been rearing for a while, but I finally started putting it into words (probably mostly Jerry's words) in a conversation at ACL with Hoifung Poon and Joseph Turian (I think it was Joseph... my memory fades quickly these days :P).

This view is that discourse is that thing that gives you an interpretation above and beyond whatever interpretations you get from a sentence. Here's a slightly refined version of the example I came up with on the fly at ACL:

  1. I only like traveling to Europe. So I submitted a paper to ACL.
  2. I only like traveling to Europe. Nevertheless, I submitted a paper to ACL.
What does the hearer (H) infer from these sentences. Well, if we look at the sentences on their own, then H infers something like Hal-likes-travel-to-Europe-and-only-Europe, and H infers something like Hal-submitted-a-paper-to-ACL. But when you throw discourse in, you can derive two additional bits of information. In example (1), you can infer ACL-is-in-Europe-this-year and in (2) you can infer the negation of that.

Pretty amazing stuff, huh? Replacing a "so" with a "nevertheless" completely changes this interpretation.

What does this have to do with interpretation as abduction? Well, we're going to assume that this discourse is coherent. Given that assumption, we have to ask ourselves: in (1), what do we have to assume about the world to make this discourse coherent? The answer is that you have to assume that ACL is in Europe. And similarly for (2).

Of course, there are other things you could assume that would make this discourse coherent. For (1), you could assume that I have a rich benefactor who likes ACL submissions and will send me to Europe every time I submit something to ACL. For (2), you could assume that I didn't want my paper to get in, but I wanted a submission to get reviews, and so I submitted a crappy paper. Or something. But these fail the Occam's Razor test. Or, perhaps they are a priori simply less likely (i.e., you have to assume more to get the same result).

Interestingly, I can change the interpretation of (2), for instance, by adding a third sentence to the discourse: "I figured that it would be easy to make my way to Europe after going to Israel." Here, we would abduce that ACL is in Israel, and that I'm willing to travel to Israel on my way to Europe. For you GOFAI folks, this would be something like non-monotonic reasoning.

Whenever I talk about discourse to people who don't know much about it, I always get this nagging sense of "yes, but why do I care that you can recognize that sentence 4 is background to sentence 3, unless I want to do summarization?" I hope that this view provides some alternative answer to that question. Namely, that there's some information you can get from sentences, but there is additional information in how those sentences are glued together.

Of course, one of the big problems we have is that we have no idea how to represent sentence-level interpretations, or at least some ideas but no way to get there in the general case. In the sentence-level case, we've seen some progress recently in terms of representing semantics in a sort of substitutability manner (ala paraphrasing), which is nice because the representation is still text. One could ask if something similar might be possible at a discourse level. Obviously you could paraphrase discourse connectives, but that's missing the point. What else could you do?