Google Research

Asking without Telling: Exploring Latent Ontologies in Contextual Representations

Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing, Association for Computational Linguistics (to appear)


The success of pretrained contextual encoders, such as ELMo and BERT, has brought a great deal of interest in what these models learn: do they, without explicit supervision, learn to encode meaningful notions of linguistic structure? If so, how is this structure encoded? To investigate this, we introduce latent subclass learning (LSL): a modification to existing classifier-based probing methods that induces a latent categorization (or ontology) of the probe's inputs. Without access to fine-grained gold labels, LSL extracts emergent structure from input representations in an interpretable and quantifiable form. In experiments, we find strong evidence of familiar categories, such as a notion of personhood in ELMo, as well as novel ontological distinctions, such as a preference for fine-grained semantic roles on core arguments. Our results provide unique new evidence of emergent structure in pretrained encoders, including departures from existing annotations which are inaccessible to earlier methods.

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