Nav: Home

Could your computer please be more polite? Thank you

June 30, 2020

PITTSBURGH--In a tense time when a pandemic rages, politicians wrangle for votes and protesters demand racial justice, a little politeness and courtesy go a long way. Now researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed an automated method for making communications more polite.

Specifically, the method takes nonpolite directives or requests -- those that use either impolite or neutral language -- and restructures them or adds words to make them more well-mannered. "Send me the data," for instance, might become "Could you please send me the data?"

The researchers will present their study on politeness transfer at the Association for Computational Linguistics annual meeting, which will be held virtually beginning July 5.

The idea of transferring a style or sentiment from one communication to another -- turning negative statements positive, for instance -- is something language technologists have been doing for some time. Shrimai Prabhumoye, a Ph.D. student in CMU's Language Technologies Institute (LTI), said performing politeness transfer has long been a goal.

"It is extremely relevant for some applications, such as if you want to make your emails or chatbot sound more polite or if you're writing a blog," she said. "But we could never find the right data to perform this task."

She and LTI master's students Aman Madaan, Amrith Setlur and Tanmay Parekh solved that problem by generating a dataset of 1.39 million sentences labeled for politeness, which they used for their experiments.

The source of these sentences might seem surprising. They were derived from emails exchanged by employees of Enron, a Texas-based energy company that, until its demise in 2001, was better known for corporate fraud and corruption than for social niceties. But half a million corporate emails became public as a result of lawsuits surrounding Enron's fraud scandal and subsequently have been used as a dataset for a variety of research projects.

But even with a dataset, the researchers were challenged simply to define politeness.

"It's not just about using words such as 'please' and 'thank you,'" Prabhumoye said. Sometimes, it means making language a bit less direct, so that instead of saying "you should do X," the sentence becomes something like "let us do X."

And politeness varies from one culture to the next. It's common for native North Americans to use "please" in requests to close friends, but in Arab culture it would be considered awkward, if not rude. For their study, the CMU researchers restricted their work to speakers of North American English in a formal setting.

The politeness dataset was analyzed to determine the frequency and distribution of words in the polite and nonpolite sentences. Then the team developed a "tag and generate" pipeline to perform politeness transfers. First, impolite or nonpolite words or phrases are tagged and then a text generator replaces each tagged item. The system takes care not to change the meaning of the sentence.

"It's not just about cleaning up swear words," Prabhumoye said of the process. Initially, the system had a tendency to simply add words to sentences, such as "please" or "sorry." If "Please help me" was considered polite, the system considered "Please please please help me" even more polite.

But over time the scoring system became more realistic and the changes became subtler. First person singular pronouns, such as I, me and mine, were replaced by first person plural pronouns, such as we, us and our. And rather than position "please" at the beginning of the sentence, the system learned to insert it within the sentence: "Could you please send me the file?"

Prabhumoye said the researchers have released their labeled dataset for use by other researchers, hoping to encourage them to further study politeness.
-end-
In addition to the students, the study's co-authors included several professors from the LTI and the Machine Learning Department -- Barnabas Poczos, Graham Neubig, Yiming Yang, Ruslan Salakhutdinov and Alan Black. The Air Force Research Laboratory, Office of Naval Research, National Science Foundation, Apple and NVIDIA supported this research.

Carnegie Mellon University

Related Adds Words Articles:

NIH study finds out why some words may be more memorable than others
In a recent study of epilepsy patients and healthy volunteers, National Institutes of Health researchers found that our brains may withdraw some common words, like ''pig,'' ''tank,'' and ''door,'' much more often than others, including ''cat,'' ''street,'' and ''stair.'' By combining memory tests, brain wave recordings, and surveys of billions of words published in books, news articles and internet encyclopedia pages, the researchers not only showed how our brains may recall words but also memories of our past experiences.
Exploring the use of 'stretchable' words in social media
An investigation of Twitter messages reveals new insights and tools for studying how people use stretched words, such as 'duuuuude,' 'heyyyyy,' or 'noooooooo.' Tyler Gray and colleagues at the University of Vermont in Burlington present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on May 27, 2020.
How the brain separates words from song
The perception of speech and music -- two of the most uniquely human uses of sound -- is enabled by specialized neural systems in different brain hemispheres adapted to respond differently to specific features in the acoustic structure of the song, a new study reports.
Words matter when it comes to apparel for people living with disabilitie
Brands should consider the language they use when marketing products to this group of consumers, according to a new study from the University of Missouri.
Brain patterns can predict speech of words and syllables
Neurons in the brain's motor cortex previously thought of as active mainly during hand and arm movements also light up during speech in a way that is similar to patterns of brain activity linked to these movements, suggest new findings published today in eLife.
'I predict your words': that is how we understand what others say to us
We are at a fun but noisy party: how can we understand the words someone is saying to us despite the background music and voices?
The brain processes words placed on the right side of a screen more quickly
When reading words on a screen, the human brain comprehends words placed on the right side of the screen faster.
Nearly identical representations of spoken, written words in the brain
The brain activity evoked from processing written or heard semantic information is almost identical, according to research in adults published in JNeurosci.
The voice is key to making sense of the words in our brain
Scientists at the Basque research centre BCBL conclude that the voice is fundamental for mentally presenting the meaning of words in the brain.
Texts like networks: How many words are sufficient to recognize the author?
We are more original than we think -- this is what is being suggested by literary text analysis carried out by a new method of stylometry proposed by scientists from the Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences.
More Adds Words News and Adds Words Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

TED Radio Wow-er
School's out, but many kids–and their parents–are still stuck at home. Let's keep learning together. Special guest Guy Raz joins Manoush for an hour packed with TED science lessons for everyone.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.