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DRAGNN Documentation


TensorFlow DRAGNN (Dynamic Recurrent Acyclic Graphical Neural Network) is a toolbox to build and learn fully dynamic neural computation graphs in TensorFlow. Unlike a traditional recursive neural network (for example, dynamic batching models such as TensorFlow Fold), a DRAGNN uses a learned policy to add recurrent edges to a computation graph on the fly, as a function of both input and outputs of the network.

Why do we need fully dynamic computation graphs? As it turns out, such models arise naturally when utilizing deep learning to build a pipelines of reusable components. For example, natural language understanding can be broken down into separately useful stages:

  • A segmentation module first breaks a string of characters into discrete words, along with vector representations of those words.
  • A tagging module labels each word with properties such as part-of-speech, morphological tags, or links to external knowledge bases, as injects grounded knowledge into the vector representation.
  • A parsing module uses the word representations to construct phrases and generates vector representations for each phrase.
  • Sentence-level reasoning modules reason about the meaning of phrases -- for example, sentiment or semantic roles, and construct semantic representations of the sentence.

The DRAGNN library provides a framework to define and train such a pipeline in a single TensorFlow graph. This graph must necessarily be dynamic in order to account for the discrete intermediate structures, such as parse trees, phrases, and spans. Furthermore, the library allows joint models to be trained in a multi-task framework, even when annotations for particular intermediate tasks are missing.

How DRAGNN works

Given that TensorFlow doesn’t support fully dynamic computation efficiently out of the box, how do we add it? DRAGNN adds a C++ API, the dragnn::ComputeSession, that exists alongside the TensorFlow graph. The ComputeSession is responsible for managing the discrete dynamics of the computation graph. We introduce new TensorFlow Ops that can read and write to the ComputeSession that are used inside of vanilla TensorFlow conditional operations:

To build this TensorFlow graph, we define a modular API, called the DRAGNN GraphBuilder. This takes as input a master configuration file, the dragnn.Spec protocol buffer, and constructs the TensorFlow graph with the appropriate DRAGNN ops. Once built, the TensorFlow graph never changes, much like how TensorFlow Fold works.

Defining a DRAGNN graph (concepts)

DRAGNN is a modular framework: unlike vanilla TensorFlow RNN’s, DRAGNN’s must be defined in terms of re-usable pieces. To define a complete model, we first specify how these pieces should be connected to construct the model we want, and then we pass this specification to the GraphBuilder.  

At the highest level, a DRAGNN is a series of connected pieces called Components. Each Component represents some neural net processing of a complete pass over a batch of input data. How much processing, how to interpret the input and extract features, and the internal structure of the neural network, are all properties of the component

SyntaxNet running example (examples/dragnn/ A SyntaxNet Part-of-Speech (POS) tagger is a single Component that accepts a batch of syntaxnet::Sentence protocol buffers, iterates over each token, extracts features, feeds them into a feed-forward neural network, and predicts a POS tag to each token.

Because DRAGNN connects multiple Components in a single TensorFlow graph, multiple annotation tasks can be pipelined together. Each Component operates on the same batch of serialized data, and the output of the graph is the final annotated result.

SyntaxNet running example (examples/dragnn/ Parsey McParseface first performs POS tagging, followed by dependency parsing. Both tasks can be modeled by two Components which operate over the same batch of syntaxnet::Sentence protocol buffers. The first performs POS tagging, while the second uses the predicted POS tags as features (written to the underlying protobufs by the POS tagger) and predicts dependency parse trees.

However, the real power of DRAGNN is the ability of one Component to learn representations that are useful for downstream Components. As each Component iterates over the data, it writes intermediate representations to a tf.TensorArray object. Downstream Components can then read the representations populated by upstream ones. During training, errors are back-propagated from downstream Components to tune the representations from upstream ones. This process is called stack-propagation.

SyntaxNet running example (TBD): Instead of using the predicted POS tags from the POS tagger component, ParseySaurus reads the learned representations from the POS tagger directly. These representations contain all the information needed to predict the POS tags, so the parser still obtains the benefit of POS tagging. However, the parser is no longer sensitive to individual POS tag predictions, and is therefore more robust.

Finally, while Components may produce annotations, they are not required to. Components can be defined purely to traverse the input in a particular manner and produce representations for later components.

SyntaxNet running example (TBD): A shift-only SyntaxNet Component doesn’t predict any annotations, but just consumes one token or character at a time. This is useful when the Component is running a LSTM: the LSTM can consume characters to form word representations, or consume words right-to-left to compute representations for the upcoming words when parsing. ParseySaurus uses such a LSTM-based Component to preprocess the data in right-to-left order and obtain richer input representations.

How Components work

A Component has the following properties:

  • A global C++ backend configuration
  • Task-specific configuration for the Transition System
  • Configuration for feature extraction
  • Configuration for dynamic edge creation
  • Configuration for the Python GraphBuilder to construct the network cell inside a tf.while_loop.

For more information on Components and their use, see the documentation in the g3doc/dragnn/ directory.

Feeding your DRAGNN data

A DRAGNN graph is fed with strings, and each Component determines how to interpret them. For example, the SyntaxNetComponent expects each string to be a serialized Sentence protocol buffer. (If you want to operate on Sentence objects, it probably makes sense to add more syntaxnet::TransitionSystem classes than write a new Component from scratch.)

If you want to to read other types of data, you will need to sub-class InputBatchCache, a container which holds the strings and deserializes them into typed data on demand. Usage is fairly straightforward; see the SyntaxNet implementation for how to use it.

Note: all Component's in the graph should use a single InputBatchCache sub-class. If you need multiple data types, you'll want to have a single InputBatchCache that has fields for each of your data types.