Transformer language models encode the notion of word order using positional information. Most commonly, this positional information is represented by absolute position embeddings (APEs), that are learned from the pretraining data. However, in natural language, it is not absolute position that matters, but relative position, and the extent to which APEs can capture this type of information has not been investigated. In this work, we observe that models trained with APE over-rely on positional information to the point that they break-down when subjected to sentences with shifted position information. Specifically, when models are subjected to sentences starting from a non-zero position (excluding the effect of priming), they exhibit noticeably degraded performance on zero to full-shot tasks, across a range of model families and model sizes. Our findings raise questions about the efficacy of APEs to model the relativity of position information, and invite further introspection on the sentence and word order processing strategies employed by these models.
We introduce ART, a new corpus-level autoencoding approach for training dense retrieval models that does not require any labeled training data. Dense retrieval is a central challenge for open-domain tasks, such as Open QA, where state-of-the-art methods typically require large supervised datasets with custom hard-negative mining and denoising of positive examples. ART, in contrast, only requires access to unpaired inputs and outputs (e.g. questions and potential answer documents). It uses a new document-retrieval autoencoding scheme, where (1) an input question is used to retrieve a set of evidence documents, and (2) the documents are then used to compute the probability of reconstructing the original question. Training for retrieval based on question reconstruction enables effective unsupervised learning of both document and question encoders, which can be later incorporated into complete Open QA systems without any further finetuning. Extensive experiments demonstrate that ART obtains state-of-the-art results on multiple QA retrieval benchmarks with only generic initialization from a pre-trained language model, removing the need for labeled data and task-specific losses.
We propose a simple and effective re-ranking method for improving passage retrieval in open question answering. The re-ranker re-scores retrieved passages with a zero-shot question generation model, which uses a pre-trained language model to compute the probability of the input question conditioned on a retrieved passage. This approach can be applied on top of any retrieval method (e.g. neural or keyword-based), does not require any domain- or task-specific training (and therefore is expected to generalize better to data distribution shifts), and provides rich cross-attention between query and passage (i.e. it must explain every token in the question). When evaluated on a number of open-domain retrieval datasets, our re-ranker improves strong unsupervised retrieval models by 6%-18% absolute and strong supervised models by up to 12% in terms of top-20 passage retrieval accuracy. We also obtain new state-of-the-art results on full open-domain question answering by simply adding the new re-ranker to existing models with no further changes.
In the online continual learning paradigm, agents must learn from a changing distribution while respecting memory and compute constraints. Experience Replay (ER), where a small subset of past data is stored and replayed alongside new data, has emerged as a simple and effective learning strategy. In this work, we focus on the change in representations of observed data that arises when previously unobserved classes appear in the incoming data stream, and new classes must be distinguished from previous ones. We shed new light on this question by showing that applying ER causes the newly added classes' representations to overlap significantly with the previous classes, leading to highly disruptive parameter updates. Based on this empirical analysis, we propose a new method which mitigates this issue by shielding the learned representations from drastic adaptation to accommodate new classes. We show that using an asymmetric update rule pushes new classes to adapt to the older ones (rather than the reverse), which is more effective especially at task boundaries, where much of the forgetting typically occurs. Empirical results show significant gains over strong baselines on standard continual learning benchmarks
Reinforcement learning (RL) agents need to be robust to variations in safety-critical environments. While system identification methods provide a way to infer the variation from online experience, they can fail in settings where fast identification is not possible. Another dominant approach is robust RL which produces a policy that can handle worst-case scenarios, but these methods are generally designed to achieve robustness to a single uncertainty set that must be specified at train time. Towards a more general solution, we formulate the multi-set robustness problem to learn a policy robust to different perturbation sets. We then design an algorithm that enjoys the benefits of both system identification and robust RL: it reduces uncertainty where possible given a few interactions, but can still act robustly with respect to the remaining uncertainty. On a diverse set of control tasks, our approach demonstrates improved worst-case performance on new environments compared to prior methods based on system identification and on robust RL alone.
In the absence of randomized controlled and natural experiments, it is necessary to balance the distributions of (observable) covariates of the treated and control groups in order to obtain an unbiased estimate of a causal effect of interest; otherwise, a different effect size may be estimated, and incorrect recommendations may be given. To achieve this balance, there exist a wide variety of methods. In particular, several methods based on optimization models have been recently proposed in the causal inference literature. While these optimization-based methods empirically showed an improvement over a limited number of other causal inference methods in their relative ability to balance the distributions of covariates and to estimate causal effects, they have not been thoroughly compared to each other and to other noteworthy causal inference methods. In addition, we believe that there exist several unaddressed opportunities that operational researchers could contribute with their advanced knowledge of optimization, for the benefits of the applied researchers that use causal inference tools. In this review paper, we present an overview of the causal inference literature and describe in more detail the optimization-based causal inference methods, provide a comparative analysis of the prevailing optimization-based methods, and discuss opportunities for new methods.
A growing body of research in continual learning focuses on the catastrophic forgetting problem. While many attempts have been made to alleviate this problem, the majority of the methods assume a single model in the continual learning setup. In this work, we question this assumption and show that employing ensemble models can be a simple yet effective method to improve continual performance. However, the training and inference cost of ensembles can increase linearly with the number of models. Motivated by this limitation, we leverage the recent advances in the deep learning optimization literature, such as mode connectivity and neural network subspaces, to derive a new method that is both computationally advantageous and can outperform the state-of-the-art continual learning algorithms.
Estimating value functions is a core component of reinforcement learning algorithms. Temporal difference (TD) learning algorithms use bootstrapping, i.e. they update the value function toward a learning target using value estimates at subsequent time-steps. Alternatively, the value function can be updated toward a learning target constructed by separately predicting successor features (SF)--a policy-dependent model--and linearly combining them with instantaneous rewards. We focus on bootstrapping targets used when estimating value functions, and propose a new backup target, the $\eta$-return mixture, which implicitly combines value-predictive knowledge (used by TD methods) with (successor) feature-predictive knowledge--with a parameter $\eta$ capturing how much to rely on each. We illustrate that incorporating predictive knowledge through an $\eta\gamma$-discounted SF model makes more efficient use of sampled experience, compared to either extreme, i.e. bootstrapping entirely on the value function estimate, or bootstrapping on the product of separately estimated successor features and instantaneous reward models. We empirically show this approach leads to faster policy evaluation and better control performance, for tabular and nonlinear function approximations, indicating scalability and generality.
In reinforcement learning (RL), when defining a Markov Decision Process (MDP), the environment dynamics is implicitly assumed to be stationary. This assumption of stationarity, while simplifying, can be unrealistic in many scenarios. In the continual reinforcement learning scenario, the sequence of tasks is another source of nonstationarity. In this work, we propose to examine this continual reinforcement learning setting through the block contextual MDP (BC-MDP) framework, which enables us to relax the assumption of stationarity. This framework challenges RL algorithms to handle both nonstationarity and rich observation settings and, by additionally leveraging smoothness properties, enables us to study generalization bounds for this setting. Finally, we take inspiration from adaptive control to propose a novel algorithm that addresses the challenges introduced by this more realistic BC-MDP setting, allows for zero-shot adaptation at evaluation time, and achieves strong performance on several nonstationary environments.