Introducing FELIX: Flexible Text Editing Through Tagging and Insertion

Posted by Jonathan Mallinson and Aliaksei Severyn, Research Scientists, Google Research

Sequence-to-sequence (seq2seq) models have become a favoured approach for tackling natural language generation tasks, with applications ranging from machine translation to monolingual generation tasks, such as summarization, sentence fusion, text simplification, and machine translation post-editing. However these models appear to be a suboptimal choice for many monolingual tasks, as the desired output text often represents a minor rewrite of the input text. When accomplishing such tasks, seq2seq models are both slower because they generate the output one word at a time (i.e., autoregressively), and wasteful because most of the input tokens are simply copied into the output.

Instead, text-editing models have recently received a surge of interest as they propose to predict edit operations – such as word deletion, insertion, or replacement – that are applied to the input to reconstruct the output. However, previous text-editing approaches have limitations. They are either fast (being non-autoregressive), but not flexible, because they use a limited number of edit operations, or they are flexible, supporting all possible edit operations, but slow (autoregressive). In either case, they have not focused on modeling large structural (syntactic) transformations, for example switching from active voice, “They ate steak for dinner,” to passive, “Steak was eaten for dinner.” Instead, they’ve focused on local transformations, deleting or replacing short phrases. When a large structural transformation needs to occur, they either can’t produce it or insert a large amount of new text, which is slow.

In “FELIX: Flexible Text Editing Through Tagging and Insertion”, we introduce FELIX, a fast and flexible text-editing system that models large structural changes and achieves a 90x speed-up compared to seq2seq approaches whilst achieving impressive results on four monolingual generation tasks. Compared to traditional seq2seq methods, FELIX has the following three key advantages:

Sample efficiency: Training a high precision text generation model typically requires large

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