Towards More Robust Natural Language Understanding

Natural Language Understanding (NLU) is a branch of Natural Language Processing (NLP) that uses intelligent computer software to understand texts that encode human knowledge. Recent years have witnessed notable progress across various NLU tasks with deep learning techniques, especially with pretrained language models. Besides proposing more advanced model architectures, constructing more reliable and trustworthy datasets also plays a huge role in improving NLU systems, without which it would be impossible to train a decent NLU model. It's worth noting that the human ability of understanding natural language is flexible and robust. On the contrary, most of existing NLU systems fail to achieve desirable performance on out-of-domain data or struggle on handling challenging items (e.g., inherently ambiguous items, adversarial items) in the real world. Therefore, in order to have NLU models understand human language more effectively, it is expected to prioritize the study on robust natural language understanding. In this thesis, we deem that NLU systems are consisting of two components: NLU models and NLU datasets. As such, we argue that, to achieve robust NLU, the model architecture/training and the dataset are equally important. Specifically, we will focus on three NLU tasks to illustrate the robustness problem in different NLU tasks and our contributions (i.e., novel models and new datasets) to help achieve more robust natural language understanding. Moving forward, the ultimate goal for robust natural language understanding is to build NLU models which can behave humanly. That is, it's expected that robust NLU systems are capable to transfer the knowledge from training corpus to unseen documents more reliably and survive when encountering challenging items even if the system doesn't know a priori of users' inputs.

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