To address the Conversational Question Answering (ORConvQA) task, previous work has considered an effective three-stage architecture, consisting of a retriever, a reranker, and a reader to extract the answers. In order to effectively answer the users’ questions, a number of existing approaches have applied multi-task learning, such that the same model is shared between the reranker and the reader. Such approaches also typically tackle reranking and reading as classification tasks. On the other hand, recent text generation models, such as monoT5 and UnifiedQA, have been shown to respectively yield impressive performances in passage reranking and reading. However, no prior work has combined monoT5 and UnifiedQA to share a single text generation model that directly extracts the answers for the users instead of predicting the start/end positions in a retrieved passage. In this paper, we investigate the use of Multi-Task Learning (MTL) to improve performance on the ORConvQA task by sharing the reranker and reader’s learned structure in a generative model. In particular, we propose monoQA, which uses a text generation model with multi-task learning for both the reranker and reader. Our model, which is based on the T5 text generation model, is fine-tuned simultaneously for both reranking (in order to improve the precision of the top retrieved passages) and extracting the answer. Our results on the OR-QuAC and OR-CoQA datasets demonstrate the effectiveness of our proposed model, which significantly outperforms existing strong baselines with improvements ranging from +12.31% to +19.51% in MAP and from +5.70% to +23.34% in F1 on all used test sets.
Conversational Question Answering (ConvQA) is a Conversational Search task in a simplified setting, where an answer must be extracted from a given passage. Neural language models, such as BERT, fine-tuned on large-scale ConvQA datasets such as CoQA and QuAC have been used to address this task. Recently, Multi-Task Learning (MTL) has emerged as a particularly interesting approach for developing ConvQA models, where the objective is to enhance the performance of a primary task by sharing the learned structure across several related auxiliary tasks. However, existing ConvQA models that leverage MTL have not investigated the dynamic adjustment of the relative importance of the different tasks during learning, nor the resulting impact on the performance of the learned models. In this paper, we first study the effectiveness and efficiency of dynamic MTL methods including Evolving Weighting, Uncertainty Weighting, and Loss-Balanced Task Weighting, compared to static MTL methods such as the uniform weighting of tasks. Furthermore, we propose a novel hybrid dynamic method combining Abridged Linear for the main task with a Loss-Balanced Task Weighting (LBTW) for the auxiliary tasks, so as to automatically fine-tune task weighting during learning, ensuring that each of the task’s weights is adjusted by the relative importance of the different tasks. We conduct experiments using QuAC, a large-scale ConvQA dataset. Our results demonstrate the effectiveness of our proposed method, which significantly outperforms both the single-task learning and static task weighting methods with improvements ranging from +2.72% to +3.20% in F1 scores. Finally, our findings show that the performance of using MTL in developing ConvQA model is sensitive to the correct selection of the auxiliary tasks as well as to an adequate balancing of the loss rates of these tasks during training by using LBTW.