Teaching language models grammar really does make them smarter
Voice assistants like Siri and Alexa can tell the weather and crack a good joke, but any 8-year-old can carry on a better conversation.
The deep learning models that power Siri and Alexa learn to understand our commands by picking out patterns in sequences of words and phrases. Their narrow, statistical understanding of language stands in sharp contrast to our own creative, spontaneous ways of speaking, a skill that starts developing even before we are born, while we're still in the womb.
To give computers some of our innate feel for language, researchers have started training deep learning models on the grammatical rules that most of us grasp intuitively, even if we never learned how to diagram a sentence in school. Grammatical constraints seem to help the models learn faster and perform better, but because neural networks reveal very little about their decision-making process, researchers have struggled to confirm that the gains are due to the grammar, and not the models’ expert ability at finding patterns in sequences of words.