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Christian Buck

Christian Buck

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    Preview abstract Neural retrieval models have superseded classic bag-of-words methods such as BM25 as the retrieval framework of choice. However, neural systems lack the interpretability of bag-of-words models; it is not trivial to connect a query change to a change in the latent space that ultimately determines the retrieval results. To shed light on this embedding space, we learn a "query decoder" that, given a latent representation of a neural search engine, generates the corresponding query. We show that it is possible to decode a meaningful query from its latent representation and, when moving in the right direction in latent space, to decode a query that retrieves the relevant paragraph. In particular, the query decoder can be useful to understand "what should have been asked" to retrieve a particular paragraph from the collection. We employ the query decoder to generate a large synthetic dataset of query reformulations for MSMarco, leading to improved retrieval performance. On this data, we train a pseudo-relevance feedback (PRF) T5 model for the application of query suggestion that outperforms both query reformulation and PRF information retrieval baselines. View details
    Preview abstract The predictions of question answering (QA) systems are typically evaluated against manually annotated finite sets of one or more answers. This leads to a coverage limitation that results in underestimating the true performance of systems, and is typically addressed by extending over exact match (EM) with predefined rules or with the token-level F1 measure. In this paper, we present the first systematic conceptual and data-driven analysis to examine the shortcomings of token-level equivalence measures. To this end, we define the asymmetric notion of answer equivalence (AE), accepting answers that are equivalent to or improve over the reference, and publish over 23k human judgments for candidates produced by multiple QA systems on SQuAD. Through a careful analysis of this data, we reveal and quantify several concrete limitations of the F1 measure, such as a false impression of graduality, or missing dependence on the question. Since collecting AE annotations for each evaluated model is expensive, we learn a BERT matching (BEM) measure to approximate this task. Being a simpler task than QA, we find BEM to provide significantly better AE approximations than F1, and to more accurately reflect the performance of systems. Finally, we demonstrate the practical utility of AE and BEM on the concrete application of minimal accurate prediction sets, reducing the number of required answers by up to ×2.6. View details
    Preview abstract This paper presents first successful steps in designing search agents that learn meta-strategies for iterative query refinement in information-seeking tasks. Our approach uses machine reading to guide the selection of refinement terms from aggregated search results. Agents are then empowered with simple but effective search operators to exert fine-grained and transparent control over queries and search results. We develop a novel way of generating synthetic search sessions, which leverages the power of transformer-based language models through (self-)supervised learning. We also present a reinforcement learning agent with dynamically constrained actions that learns interactive search strategies from scratch. Our search agents obtain retrieval and answer quality performance comparable to recent neural methods, using only a traditional term-based BM25 ranking function and interpretable discrete reranking and filtering actions. View details
    Preview abstract We frame Question Answering (QA) as a Reinforcement Learning task, an approach that we call Active Question Answering. We propose an agent that sits between the user and a black box QA system and learns to reformulate questions to elicit the best possible answers. The agent probes the system with, potentially many, natural language reformulations of an initial question and aggregates the returned evidence to yield the best answer. The reformulation system is trained end-to-end to maximize answer quality using policy gradient. We evaluate on SearchQA, a dataset of complex questions extracted from Jeopardy!. The agent outperforms a state-of-the-art base model, playing the role of the environment, and other benchmarks. We also analyze the language that the agent has learned while interacting with the question answering system. We find that successful question reformulations look quite different from natural language paraphrases. The agent is able to discover non-trivial reformulation strategies that resemble classic information retrieval techniques such as term re-weighting (tf-idf) and stemming. View details
    Preview abstract We analyze the language learned by an agent trained with reinforcement learning as a component of the ActiveQA system [Buck et al., 2017]. In ActiveQA, question answering is framed as a reinforcement learning task in which an agent sits between the user and a black box question-answering system. The agent learns to reformulate the user's questions to elicit the optimal answers. It probes the system with many versions of a question that are generated via a sequence-to-sequence question reformulation model, then aggregates the returned evidence to find the best answer. This process is an instance of machine-machine communication. The question reformulation model must adapt its language to increase the quality of the answers returned, matching the language of the question answering system. We find that the agent does not learn transformations that align with semantic intuitions but discovers through learning classical information retrieval techniques such as tf-idf re-weighting and stemming. View details
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