The goal of database question answering is to enable natural language querying of real-life relational databases in diverse application domains. Recently, large-scale datasets such as Spider and WikiSQL facilitated novel modeling techniques for text-to-SQL parsing, improving zero-shot generalization to unseen databases. In this work, we examine the challenges that still prevent these techniques from practical deployment. First, we present KaggleDBQA, a new cross-domain evaluation dataset of real Web databases, with domain-specific data types, original formatting, and unrestricted questions. Second, we re-examine the choice of evaluation tasks for text-to-SQL parsers as applied in real-life settings. Finally, we augment our in-domain evaluation task with database documentation, a naturally occurring source of implicit domain knowledge. We show that KaggleDBQA presents a challenge to state-of-the-art zero-shot parsers but a more realistic evaluation setting and creative use of associated database documentation boosts their accuracy by over 13.2%, doubling their performance.
Learning to capture text-table alignment is essential for tasks like text-to-SQL. A model needs to correctly recognize natural language references to columns and values and to ground them in the given database schema. In this paper, we present a novel weakly supervised Structure-Grounded pretraining framework (STRUG) for text-to-SQL that can effectively learn to capture text-table alignment based on a parallel text-table corpus. We identify a set of novel pretraining tasks: column grounding, value grounding and column-value mapping, and leverage them to pretrain a text-table encoder. Additionally, to evaluate different methods under more realistic text-table alignment settings, we create a new evaluation set Spider-Realistic based on Spider dev set with explicit mentions of column names removed, and adopt eight existing text-to-SQL datasets for cross-database evaluation. STRUG brings significant improvement over BERTLARGE in all settings. Compared with existing pretraining methods such as GRAPPA, STRUG achieves similar performance on Spider, and outperforms all baselines on more realistic sets. All the code and data used in this work will be open-sourced to facilitate future research.
When translating natural language questions into SQL queries to answer questions from a database, contemporary semantic parsing models struggle to generalize to unseen database schemas. The generalization challenge lies in (a) encoding the database relations in an accessible way for the semantic parser, and (b) modeling alignment between database columns and their mentions in a given query. We present a unified framework, based on the relation-aware self-attention mechanism, to address schema encoding, schema linking, and feature representation within a text-to-SQL encoder. On the challenging Spider dataset this framework boosts the exact match accuracy to 57.2%, surpassing its best counterparts by 8.7% absolute improvement. Further augmented with BERT, it achieves the new state-of-the-art performance of 65.6% on the Spider leaderboard. In addition, we observe qualitative improvements in the model’s understanding of schema linking and alignment. Our implementation will be open-sourced at https://github.com/Microsoft/rat-sql.
We explore learning web-based tasks from a human teacher through natural language explanations and a single demonstration. Our approach investigates a new direction for semantic parsing that models explaining a demonstration in a context, rather than mapping explanations to demonstrations. By leveraging the idea of inverse semantics from program synthesis to reason backwards from observed demonstrations, we ensure that all considered interpretations are consistent with executable actions in any context, thus simplifying the problem of search over logical forms. We present a dataset of explanations paired with demonstrations for web-based tasks. Our methods show better task completion rates than a supervised semantic parsing baseline (40% relative improvement on average), and are competitive with simple exploration-and-demonstration based methods, while requiring no exploration of the environment. In learning to align explanations with demonstrations, basic properties of natural language syntax emerge as learned behavior. This is an interesting example of pragmatic language acquisition without any linguistic annotation.