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The Goldilocks of Pragmatic Understanding: Fine-Tuning Strategy Matters for Implicature Resolution by LLMs

Laura Ruis · Akbir Khan · Stella Biderman · Sara Hooker · Tim Rockt√§schel · Edward Grefenstette

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #312
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Tue 12 Dec 3:15 p.m. PST — 5:15 p.m. PST


Despite widespread use of LLMs as conversational agents, evaluations of performance fail to capture a crucial aspect of communication: interpreting language in context---incorporating its pragmatics. Humans interpret language using beliefs and prior knowledge about the world. For example, we intuitively understand the response "I wore gloves" to the question "Did you leave fingerprints?" as meaning "No". To investigate whether LLMs have the ability to make this type of inference, known as an implicature, we design a simple task and evaluate four categories of widely used state-of-the-art models. We find that, despite only evaluating on utterances that require a binary inference (yes or no), models in three of these categories perform close to random. However, LLMs instruction-tuned at the example-level perform significantly better. These results suggest that certain fine-tuning strategies are far better at inducing pragmatic understanding in models. We present our findings as the starting point for further research into evaluating how LLMs interpret language in context and to drive the development of more pragmatic and useful models of human discourse.

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