A Bilingual Generative Transformer for Semantic Sentence Embedding

Semantic sentence embedding models encode natural language sentences into vectors, such that closeness in embedding space indicates closeness in the semantics between the sentences. Bilingual data offers a useful signal for learning such embeddings: properties shared by both sentences in a translation pair are likely semantic, while divergent properties are likely stylistic or language-specific. We propose a deep latent variable model that attempts to perform source separation on parallel sentences, isolating what they have in common in a latent semantic vector, and explaining what is left over with language-specific latent vectors. Our proposed approach differs from past work on semantic sentence encoding in two ways. First, by using a variational probabilistic framework, we introduce priors that encourage source separation, and can use our model's posterior to predict sentence embeddings for monolingual data at test time. Second, we use high-capacity transformers as both data generating distributions and inference networks -- contrasting with most past work on sentence embeddings. In experiments, our approach substantially outperforms the state-of-the-art on a standard suite of unsupervised semantic similarity evaluations. Further, we demonstrate that our approach yields the largest gains on more difficult subsets of these evaluations where simple word overlap is not a good indicator of similarity.

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