LingLang Lunch (2/7/2019): Ellie Pavlick (Brown)

Ellie Pavlick is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Brown University and an academic partner with Google AI. She is interested in building better computational models of natural language semantics and pragmatics. For more information, her website is here.


Why should NLP care about linguistics?

In just the past few months, a flurry of adversarial studies have pushed back on the apparent progress of neural networks, with multiple analyses suggesting that deep models of text fail to capture even basic properties of language, such as negation, word order, and compositionality. Alongside this wave of negative results, our field has stated ambitions to move beyond task-specific models and toward “general purpose” word, sentence, and even document embeddings. This is a tall order for the field of NLP, and, I argue, marks a significant shift in the way we approach our research. I will discuss what we can learn from the field of linguistics about the challenges of codifying all of language in a “general purpose” way. Then, more importantly, I will discuss what we cannot learn from linguistics. I will argue that the state-of-the-art of NLP research is operating close to the limits of what we know about natural language semantics, both within our field and outside it. I will conclude with thoughts on why this opens opportunities for NLP to advance both technology and basic science as it relates to language, and the implications for the way we should conduct empirical research.