Predicting Spreadsheet Formulas from Semi-structured Contexts

Posted by Rishabh Singh, Research Scientist and Max Lin, Software Engineer, Google Research

Hundreds of millions of people use spreadsheets, and formulas in those spreadsheets allow users to perform sophisticated analyses and transformations on their data. Although formula languages are simpler than general-purpose programming languages, writing these formulas can still be tedious and error-prone, especially for end-users. We’ve previously developed tools to understand patterns in spreadsheet data to automatically fill missing values in a column, but they were not built to support the process of writing formulas.

In “SpreadsheetCoder: Formula Prediction from Semi-structured Context“, published at ICML 2021, we describe a new model that learns to automatically generate formulas based on the rich context around a target cell. When a user starts writing a formula with the “=” sign in a target cell, the system generates possible relevant formulas for that cell by learning patterns of formulas in historical spreadsheets. The model uses the data present in neighboring rows and columns of the target cell as well as the header row as context. It does this by first embedding the contextual structure of a spreadsheet table, consisting of neighboring and header cells, and then generates the desired spreadsheet formula using this contextual embedding. The formula is generated as two components: 1) the sequence of operators (e.g., SUM, IF, etc.), and 2) the corresponding ranges on which the operators are applied (e.g., “A2:A10”). The feature based on this model is now generally available to Google Sheets users.

Given the user’s intent to enter a formula in cells B7, C7, and D7, the system automatically infers the most likely formula the user might want to write in those cells. Given the target cell (D4), the model uses the header and surrounding cell values as context to generate the target formula consisting of the corresponding sequence of operators and range.

Model Architecture
The model uses an

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