Although pretrained Transformers such as BERT achieve high accuracy on in-distribution examples, do they generalize to new distributions? We systematically measure out-of-distribution (OOD) generalization for seven NLP datasets by constructing a new robustness benchmark with realistic distribution shifts. We measure the generalization of previous models including bag-of-words models, ConvNets, and LSTMs, and we show that pretrained Transformers’ performance declines are substantially smaller. Pretrained transformers are also more effective at detecting anomalous or OOD examples, while many previous models are frequently worse than chance. We examine which factors affect robustness, finding that larger models are not necessarily more robust, distillation can be harmful, and more diverse pretraining data can enhance robustness. Finally, we show where future work can improve OOD robustness.
Adversaries may look to steal or attack black-box NLP systems, either for financial gain or to exploit model errors. One setting of particular interest is machine translation (MT), where models have high commercial value and errors can be costly. We investigate possible exploitations of black-box MT systems and explore a preliminary defense against such threats. We first show that MT systems can be stolen by querying them with monolingual sentences and training models to imitate their outputs. Using simulated experiments, we demonstrate that MT model stealing is possible even when imitation models have different input data or architectures than their target models. Applying these ideas, we train imitation models that reach within 0.6 BLEU of three production MT systems on both high-resource and low-resource language pairs. We then leverage the similarity of our imitation models to transfer adversarial examples to the production systems. We use gradient-based attacks that expose inputs which lead to semantically-incorrect translations, dropped content, and vulgar model outputs. To mitigate these vulnerabilities, we propose a defense that modifies translation outputs in order to misdirect the optimization of imitation models. This defense degrades the adversary’s BLEU score and attack success rate at some cost in the defender’s BLEU and inference speed.