Michael Hanna


The Functional Relevance of Probed Information: A Case Study
Michael Hanna | Roberto Zamparelli | David Mareček
Proceedings of the 17th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics

Recent studies have shown that transformer models like BERT rely on number information encoded in their representations of sentences’ subjects and head verbs when performing subject-verb agreement. However, probing experiments suggest that subject number is also encoded in the representations of all words in such sentences. In this paper, we use causal interventions to show that BERT only uses the subject plurality information encoded in its representations of the subject and words that agree with it in number. We also demonstrate that current probing metrics are unable to determine which words’ representations contain functionally relevant information. This both provides a revised view of subject-verb agreement in language models, and suggests potential pitfalls for current probe usage and evaluation.


ACT-Thor: A Controlled Benchmark for Embodied Action Understanding in Simulated Environments
Michael Hanna | Federico Pedeni | Alessandro Suglia | Alberto Testoni | Raffaella Bernardi
Proceedings of the 29th International Conference on Computational Linguistics

Artificial agents are nowadays challenged to perform embodied AI tasks. To succeed, agents must understand the meaning of verbs and how their corresponding actions transform the surrounding world. In this work, we propose ACT-Thor, a novel controlled benchmark for embodied action understanding. We use the AI2-THOR simulated environment to produce a controlled setup in which an agent, given a before-image and an associated action command, has to determine what the correct after-image is among a set of possible candidates. First, we assess the feasibility of the task via a human evaluation that resulted in 81.4% accuracy, and very high inter-annotator agreement (84.9%). Second, we design both unimodal and multimodal baselines, using state-of-the-art visual feature extractors. Our evaluation and error analysis suggest that only models that have a very structured representation of the actions together with powerful visual features can perform well on the task. However, they still fall behind human performance in a zero-shot scenario where the model is exposed to unseen (action, object) pairs. This paves the way for a systematic way of evaluating embodied AI agents that understand grounded actions.


Analyzing BERT’s Knowledge of Hypernymy via Prompting
Michael Hanna | David Mareček
Proceedings of the Fourth BlackboxNLP Workshop on Analyzing and Interpreting Neural Networks for NLP

The high performance of large pretrained language models (LLMs) such as BERT on NLP tasks has prompted questions about BERT’s linguistic capabilities, and how they differ from humans’. In this paper, we approach this question by examining BERT’s knowledge of lexical semantic relations. We focus on hypernymy, the “is-a” relation that relates a word to a superordinate category. We use a prompting methodology to simply ask BERT what the hypernym of a given word is. We find that, in a setting where all hypernyms are guessable via prompting, BERT knows hypernyms with up to 57% accuracy. Moreover, BERT with prompting outperforms other unsupervised models for hypernym discovery even in an unconstrained scenario. However, BERT’s predictions and performance on a dataset containing uncommon hyponyms and hypernyms indicate that its knowledge of hypernymy is still limited.

A Fine-Grained Analysis of BERTScore
Michael Hanna | Ondřej Bojar
Proceedings of the Sixth Conference on Machine Translation

BERTScore, a recently proposed automatic metric for machine translation quality, uses BERT, a large pre-trained language model to evaluate candidate translations with respect to a gold translation. Taking advantage of BERT’s semantic and syntactic abilities, BERTScore seeks to avoid the flaws of earlier approaches like BLEU, instead scoring candidate translations based on their semantic similarity to the gold sentence. However, BERT is not infallible; while its performance on NLP tasks set a new state of the art in general, studies of specific syntactic and semantic phenomena have shown where BERT’s performance deviates from that of humans more generally. This naturally raises the questions we address in this paper: what are the strengths and weaknesses of BERTScore? Do they relate to known weaknesses on the part of BERT? We find that while BERTScore can detect when a candidate differs from a reference in important content words, it is less sensitive to smaller errors, especially if the candidate is lexically or stylistically similar to the reference.