Efficient Search and Learning for Language Understanding and Translation

Liang Huang, Information Sciences Institute/ University of Southern California

What is in common between translating from English into Chinese and compiling C++ into machine code? And yet what are the differences that make the former so much harder for computers? How can computers learn from human translators?

This talk sketches an efficient (linear-time) “understanding + rewriting” paradigm for machine translation inspired by both human translators as well as compilers. In this paradigm, a source language sentence is first parsed into a syntactic tree, which is then recursively converted into a target language sentence via tree-to-string rewriting rules. In both “understanding” and “rewriting” stages, this paradigm closely resembles the efficiency and incrementality of both human processing and compiling. We will discuss these two stages in turn.

First, for the “understanding” part, we present a linear-time approximate dynamic programming algorithm for incremental parsing that is as accurate as those much slower (cubic-time) chart parsers, while being as fast as those fast but lossy greedy parsers, thus getting the advantages of both worlds for the first time, achieving state-of-the-art speed and accuracy. But how do we efficiently learn such a parsing model with approximate inference from huge amounts of data? We propose a general framework for structured prediction based on the structured perceptron that is guaranteed to succeed with inexact search and works well in practice.

Next, the “rewriting” stage translates these source-language parse trees into the target language. But parsing errors from the previous stage adversely affect translation quality. An obvious solution is to use the top-k parses, rather than the 1-best tree, but this only helps a little bit due to the limited scope of the k-best list. We instead propose a “forest-based approach”, which translates a packed forest encoding exponentially many parses in a polynomial space by sharing common subtrees. Large-scale experiments showed very significant improvements in terms of translation quality, which outperforms the leading systems in literature. Like the “understanding” part, the translation algorithm here is also linear-time and incremental, thus resembles human translation.

We conclude by drawing a few future directions.

Speaker Biography

Liang Huang is a Research Assistant Professor at University of Southern California (USC), and a Research Scientist at USC’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI). He received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008, and worked as a Research Scientist at Google before moving to USC/ISI. His research focuses on efficient search algorithms for natural language processing, esp. in parsing and machine translation, as well as related structured learning problems. His work received a Best Paper Award at ACL 2008, and three Best Paper Nominations at ACL 2007, EMNLP 2008, and ACL 2010.