Improved Variational Autoencoders for Text Modeling using Dilated Convolutions

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Zichao Yang, Zhiting Hu, Ruslan Salakhutdinov, Taylor Berg-Kirkpatrick ;
Proceedings of the 34th International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR 70:3881-3890, 2017.

Abstract

Recent work on generative text modeling has found that variational autoencoders (VAE) with LSTM decoders perform worse than simpler LSTM language models (Bowman et al., 2015). This negative result is so far poorly understood, but has been attributed to the propensity of LSTM decoders to ignore conditioning information from the encoder. In this paper, we experiment with a new type of decoder for VAE: a dilated CNN. By changing the decoder’s dilation architecture, we control the size of context from previously generated words. In experiments, we find that there is a trade-off between contextual capacity of the decoder and effective use of encoding information. We show that when carefully managed, VAEs can outperform LSTM language models. We demonstrate perplexity gains on two datasets, representing the first positive language modeling result with VAE. Further, we conduct an in-depth investigation of the use of VAE (with our new decoding architecture) for semi-supervised and unsupervised labeling tasks, demonstrating gains over several strong baselines.

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