Natural Language Processing

Natural Language Processing (NLP) research at Google focuses on algorithms that apply at scale, across languages, and across domains. Our systems are used in numerous ways across Google, impacting user experience in search, mobile, apps, ads, translate and more.

Our work spans the range of traditional NLP tasks, with general-purpose syntax and semantic algorithms underpinning more specialized systems. We are particularly interested in algorithms that scale well and can be run efficiently in a highly distributed environment.

Our syntactic systems predict part-of-speech tags for each word in a given sentence, as well as morphological features such as gender and number. They also label relationships between words, such as subject, object, modification, and others. We focus on efficient algorithms that leverage large amounts of unlabeled data, and recently have incorporated neural net technology.

On the semantic side, we identify entities in free text, label them with types (such as person, location, or organization), cluster mentions of those entities within and across documents (coreference resolution), and resolve the entities to the Knowledge Graph.

Recent work has focused on incorporating multiple sources of knowledge and information to aid with analysis of text, as well as applying frame semantics at the noun phrase, sentence, and document level.

Recent Publications

Preview abstract Sequence labeling is a core task in text understanding for IE/IR systems. Text generation models have increasingly become the go-to solution for such tasks (e.g., entity extraction and dialog slot filling). While most research has focused on the labeling accuracy, a key aspect -- of vital practical importance -- has slipped through the cracks: understanding model confidence. More specifically, we lack a principled understanding of how to reliably gauge the confidence of a model in its predictions for each labeled span. This paper aims to provide some empirical insights on estimating model confidence for generative sequence labeling. Most notably, we find that simply using the decoder's output probabilities is not the best in realizing well-calibrated confidence estimates. As verified over six public datasets of different tasks, we show that our proposed approach -- which leverages statistics from top-k predictions by a beam search -- significantly reduces calibration errors of the predictions of a generative sequence labeling model. View details
Preview abstract Embeddings have become a pivotal means to represent complex, multi-faceted information about entities, concepts, and relationships in a condensed and useful format. Nevertheless, they often preclude direct interpretation. While downstream tasks make use of these compressed representations, meaningful interpretation usually requires visualization using dimensionality reduction or specialized machine learning interpretability methods. This paper addresses the challenge of making such embeddings more interpretable and broadly useful, by employing large language models (LLMs) to directly interact with embeddings -- transforming abstract vectors into understandable narratives. By injecting embeddings into LLMs, we enable querying and exploration of complex embedding data. We demonstrate our approach on a variety of diverse tasks, including: enhancing concept activation vectors (CAVs), communicating novel embedded entities, and decoding user preferences in recommender systems. Our work couples the immense information potential of embeddings with the interpretative power of LLMs. View details
LinguaMeta: Unified Metadata for Thousands of Languages
Uche Okonkwo
Emily Drummond
Proceedings of the 2024 Joint International Conference on Computational Linguistics, Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC-COLING 2024)
Preview abstract We introduce LinguaMeta, a unified resource for language metadata for thousands of languages, including language codes, names, number of speakers, writing systems, countries, official status, coordinates, and language varieties. The resources are drawn from various existing repositories and supplemented with our own research. Each data point is tagged for its origin, allowing us to easily trace back to and improve existing resources with more up-to-date and complete metadata. The resource is intended for use by researchers and organizations who aim to extend technology to thousands of languages. View details
Connecting Language Technologies with Rich, Diverse Data Sources Covering Thousands of Languages
Sebastian Ruder
Julia Kreutzer
Clara Rivera
Ishank Saxena
Proceedings of the 2024 Joint International Conference on Computational Linguistics, Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC-COLING 2024)
Preview abstract Contrary to common belief, there are rich and diverse data sources available for many thousands of languages, which can be used to develop technologies for these languages. In this paper, we provide an overview of some of the major online data sources, the types of data that they provide access to, potential applications of this data, and the number of languages that they cover. Even this covers only a small fraction of the data that exists; for example, printed books are published in many languages but few online aggregators exist. View details
Preview abstract End-to-end models for speech recognition and speech synthesis have many benefits, but we argue they also face a unique set of challenges not encountered in conventional multi-stage hybrid systems, which relied on the explicit injection of linguistic knowledge through resources such as phonemic dictionaries and verbalization grammars. These challenges include handling words with unusual grapheme-to-phoneme correspondences, converting between written forms like ‘12’ and spoken forms such as ‘twelve’, and contextual disambiguation of homophones or homographs. We describe the mitigation strategies that have been used for these problems in end-to-end systems, either implicitly or explicitly, and call out that the most commonly used mitigation techniques are likely incompatible with newly emerging approaches that use minimal amounts of supervised audio training data. We review best-of-both-world approaches that allow the use of end-to-end models combined with traditional linguistic resources, which we show are increasingly straightforward to create at scale, and close with an optimistic outlook for bringing speech technologies to many more languages by combining these strands of research. View details
Conformal Language Modeling
Victor Quach
Adam Fisch
Adam Yala
Jae Ho Sohn
Tommi Jaakkola
Regina Barzilay
Preview abstract In this paper, we propose a novel approach to conformal prediction (CP) that is adapted to generative, large language models (LLMs). Conformal prediction is a popular technique for deriving prediction sets from machine learning models that have rigorous, statistical performance guarantees. We extend conformal techniques to a broad class of language models that sample from a conditional distribution over the combinatorial, unbounded space of possible text outputs, given some input prompt. Specifically, we translate the process of constructing prediction sets into calibrating a \emph{stopping rule}, under which we draw diverse samples from our model until we are confident that the growing set of candidate answers includes at least one high-quality response. At the same time, we calibrate a \emph{rejection rule} to selectively discard low-quality or redundant responses to reduce sample noise. Under minimal assumptions, we theoretically prove that our resulting output sets contain at least one high-quality answer with some desired probability that a user can set (such as $90\%$), while still remaining empirically precise on average. Furthermore, within this set of sampled candidate answers, we show that we can also accurately identify subsets of individual components (e.g., phrases or sentences) that are each independently correct (e.g., that are not ``hallucinations'')---again, with provably high probability. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach on multiple types of large language models applied to tasks in open-domain question answering, text summarization, and radiology report generation. View details