How Self-Attention Improves Rare Class Performance in a Question-Answering Dialogue Agent

Contextualized language modeling using deep Transformer networks has been applied to a variety of natural language processing tasks with remarkable success. However, we find that these models are not a panacea for a question-answering dialogue agent corpus task, which has hundreds of classes in a long-tailed frequency distribution, with only thousands of data points. Instead, we find substantial improvements in recall and accuracy on rare classes from a simple one-layer RNN with multi-headed self-attention and static word embeddings as inputs. While much research has used attention weights to illustrate what input is important for a task, the complexities of our dialogue corpus offer a unique opportunity to examine how the model represents what it attends to, and we offer a detailed analysis of how that contributes to improved performance on rare classes. A particularly interesting phenomenon we observe is that the model picks up implicit meanings by splitting different aspects of the semantics of a single word across multiple attention heads.

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