TUTA: Tree-based Transformers for Generally Structured Table Pre-training

Tables are widely used with various structures to organize and present data. Recent attempts on table understanding mainly focus on relational tables, yet overlook to other common table structures. In this paper, we propose TUTA, a unified pre-training architecture for understanding generally structured tables. Noticing that understanding a table requires spatial, hierarchical, and semantic information, we enhance transformers with three novel structure-aware mechanisms. First, we devise a unified tree-based structure, called a bi-dimensional coordinate tree, to describe both the spatial and hierarchical information of generally structured tables. Upon this, we propose tree-based attention and position embedding to better capture the spatial and hierarchical information. Moreover, we devise three progressive pre-training objectives to enable representations at the token, cell, and table levels. We pre-train TUTA on a wide range of unlabeled web and spreadsheet tables and fine-tune it on two critical tasks in the field of table structure understanding: cell type classification and table type classification. Experiments show that TUTA is highly effective, achieving state-of-the-art on five widely-studied datasets.

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