Abstracts: May 6, 2024

This post has been republished via RSS; it originally appeared at: Microsoft Research.

Stylized microphone and sound waves illustration.

Members of the research community at Microsoft work continuously to advance their respective fields. Abstracts brings its audience to the cutting edge with them through short, compelling conversations about new and noteworthy achievements.

In this episode, Senior Principal Researcher Michel Galley joins host Gretchen Huizinga to discuss “MathVista: Evaluating Mathematical Reasoning of Foundation Models in Visual Contexts,” which was accepted at the 2024 International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR). MathVista, an open-source benchmark, combines new and existing data to measure how good models are at solving a variety of math problems that involve processing images as well as text, helping to gain insight into their reasoning capabilities.



GRETCHEN HUIZINGA: Welcome to Abstracts, a Microsoft Research Podcast that puts the spotlight on world-class research in brief. I’m Dr. Gretchen Huizinga. In this series, members of the research community at Microsoft give us a quick snapshot—or a podcast abstract—of their new and noteworthy papers.


My guest today is Dr. Michel Galley, a senior principal researcher at Microsoft Research. Dr. Galley is the coauthor of a paper called “MathVista: Evaluating Mathematical Reasoning of Foundation Models in Visual Contexts.” Michel, thanks for joining us on Abstracts today!

MICHEL GALLEY: Thank you for having me.

HUIZINGA: So I like to start with a distillation or sort of an elevator pitch of your research. Tell us in just a couple sentences what problem or issue your paper addresses and why we should care about it.

GALLEY: So this paper is about evaluating large foundation models. So it’s a very important part of researching large language models because it’s a good way to evaluate, kind of, the capabilities—what these models are good at and not good at. And a part of the focus of MathVista is to evaluate these large foundation models in a multimodal setup, so when the input to the model is actually not just text but also text and images. And then, an example of a task that such a model would perform is, like, the input is maybe a mathematical question, and then there’s some visual support to that question, let’s say, of an image of a graph, and then the model has to respond to something related to that. And why this is important … there has been a lot of work, of course, on large foundation model. Especially when it comes to reasoning tasks, like mathematical reasoning, a lot has focused more on written form.


GALLEY: So MathVista is one of the very first datasets that has input that is both images and text.

HUIZINGA: Yeah, yeah. Well, reading your paper, it seems like this is an area that hasn’t been studied systematically. In fact, you actually say that! And say that the field is largely unexplored. But quickly tell us what has been done in this field, and then tell us how your research addresses the proverbial gap in the literature.

GALLEY: Well, there has been a lot of work on vision and language in other problems, like not just about reasoning. Maybe let me just mention why reasoning is important. So one reason I think it’s very interesting to evaluate these large language models in terms of reasoning skill is that we evaluate their capabilities beyond just memorization. So as many of your listeners probably know, these large foundation models are trained on large amounts of text that is public data from various sources. So when you ask a question to a large foundation model, it could be the case, in many cases, that it just memorizes things it has seen in the data.


GALLEY: So what makes it interesting in terms of reasoning, the answer oftentimes is not there in the data. So it needs to develop this ability to connect the dots between various pieces of information to come up with a new answer. So the focus of our paper is really on mathematical reasoning, but it goes also a bit beyond that because what is also represented in the data is also science question and so on.


GALLEY: So this reasoning part has largely focused, until MathVista, on text-only modalities.


GALLEY: So it’s one of our very first ones that combines text and images in terms of evaluating these large foundation models. So you ask about what was done before. So, yes, there has been a lot of work, text only, on reasoning, for example, the mathematical question that’s just based on text. And there has been a different stream of work that was much more focused on vision. A lot of work has been on tasks such as visual question answering …


GALLEY: … where basically, you have an image and the question is about answer a question about this image. So, yes, we’re trying to fuse the two lines of research here.


GALLEY: And that’s one of the first works that does that.

HUIZINGA: Yeah. Well, let’s talk about your methodology for a minute. Tell us how you went about conducting this research, and what methods did you use?

GALLEY: Yes, sure. So that’s a bit different from a typical, kind of, machine learning paper because the focus on this work is really on benchmarking on the dataset. So the methodology is more about how we collect the data, process it. So they have two components to doing that. One was to look at existing data that already combines vision and text. And there are existing datasets that are actually already fairly big but that were not focused on reasoning. So we use those existing datasets and look for instances in the data that actually include some mathematical or science reasoning. And so that part is leveraging existing datasets, but the important part is, like, we really want to carve out what was interesting piece in terms of reasoning. And we had different stages of processing the data to identify the subset that was reasoning-based. So one first step was basically to apply some automatic filter to determine whether or not a given example, let’s say something that is visual and text, is actually … involves some mathematical reasoning. So we have different strategy. For example, if the answer is numerical, it’s likely that it might be something mathematically related. But that’s just the first stage. And the second stage, we actually had humans, annotators, just certify that the selected data is actually of high quality. So we do have an example of, “Oh, this is mathematical, and that’s either mathematical or scientific,” and so on. And that’s one part of the effort. The other part is that we realized while we collected the data, there are certain types of mathematical reasoning or related to mathematical reasoning that were not represented in the data. So we created three new datasets as part of MathVista. So when I said dataset, it’s more like, think of MathVista as like an aggregate of different types of data, and we added three of them, three new types of data. One is what you call PaperQA, which is basically data that is collected from scientific papers on arXiv, and that had questions asking about that paper and that included some visual components from the paper, typically a plot or a figure.


GALLEY: And then we had IQTest, which is basically, I mean, it’s vaguely related mathematically, but basically it also, kind of, tried to see maybe more abstractive thinking about maybe some input that is both text and visual. And the final is about FunctionQA, that is basically algebraic reasoning and function plots and so on.


GALLEY: The important part was actually to identify among vast amounts of data what is actually very interesting in terms of mathematical reasoning.


GALLEY: So that part, I think, was quite a big part of doing that work—finding existing data but also creating new data.

HUIZINGA: Yeah, yeah. Well, my favorite part of a research paper is where it says, “and what we found was … ,” so talk a little bit about your results. What did you find?

GALLEY: So we evaluated a wide variety of models, including GPT-4, Claude 2, GPT-4V, multimodal Bard, and LLaVA, and we categorized them into three categories. So one is text only. So, basically, you take a model that is by default just text, and we give it the text part of the question and ask it to answer the question. Of course, that’s, kind of, a bit of a, it’s a difficult task because oftentimes [LAUGHTER] we crucially build these questions so that you have to rely on the vision part. But that’s for, you know, scientific investigation to know how well they can do, and so that’s one category of model. A different category is still text only but that is given the detection from the image. So on the image, we do OCR. So we convert those words from images to text. It’s kind of an extension of the text-based model, except that what was images is translated into text, and then the input to the model is word only, and that’s a different category of model. And the third one is basically truly multimodal model. And what we found, I mean, not surprisingly, it’s, kind of, the one that was doing most poorly is the one that is text only. The second is text plus OCR. And then finally, the one that does best is the multimodal like GPT-4V. But while the ordering between these three categories makes sense, it was a bit surprising that maybe the gap between multimodal and text plus OCR was not bigger. Well, it’s big, but maybe not as big as we were expecting. So, for example, the best detection from the images model achieved like 35 percent accuracy while GPT-4V was 50 percent. So it’s a substantial gap but not huge.

HUIZINGA: Right. Just to clarify, you’re saying OCR. What does that stand for?

GALLEY: [Optical] character recognition.


GALLEY: So, basically, it’s the task of taking text, sometimes typed, but sometimes written, and convert this into the actual text like you would have in a text file.

HUIZINGA: Right. Michel, does any of this have to do with the difficulty of the math problems that you present these models with? I mean, it seems to me, similar to humans, that the easier the problem, the easier it would be for the machine. So at what level of math are we talking for these tests?

GALLEY: What’s nice about MathVista is there’s continuum [of] different difficulties. So the spectrum is quite broad, going from elementary school to more advanced concepts such as calculus. So it’s quite broad. So in the paper, we do have this, kind of, broken down by level. So the number I gave you, like 50 percent, is an aggregate over all the difficulties. But …


GALLEY: But the goal there was really, kind of, to compare different models, but we do have a fair amount of analysis in the appendix. Actually, we have 100 pages of appendices of plenty of analysis and so on. So if people, I mean …

HUIZINGA: I saw that. I saw the length of the paper, and I’m going, what? [LAUGHS] That’s a LONG paper! Well, research in the lab is one thing, I always like to say, but understanding real-world impact is important, too. So where’s this work going to make the most difference, and who does it help most at this point?

GALLEY: Well, I think perhaps that’s the main point of this kind of line of work in terms of reasoning is that when looking at this difficult problem that are mathematical, actually it’s a way to, kind of, abstract away maybe more complex capabilities, and I think while thinking just about mathematics might seem a bit narrow, I don’t think that really is. It’s more about seeing whether this model has the ability to do, kind of, multistep kind of processing of your input and think maybe somewhat intelligently about a given problem. So we focus mostly on math. There is some science, but we would be very interested, especially in future work, to, kind of, go beyond that.

HUIZINGA: OK, well, let me press in a little bit there because … just say I’m a regular person using a GPT model. Is your work more addressed upstream from that to the research community to say, how do we get these models to be better so that downstream people like me can be more confident of the models?

GALLEY: Yes, I would say at the moment, I mean, this line of work is perhaps more geared towards somewhat more research community, but I think it could be some seed for researchers to think about some applications perhaps that also requires some kind of step-by-step reasoning but perhaps not going beyond math.

HUIZINGA: Yeah. Michel, if there was one thing you wanted our listeners to take away from this research, kind of golden nugget, what would it be?

GALLEY: Well, I would say it’s the challenging part of these datasets. I think that’s what makes MathVista stand out compared to other datasets. By now, there are a few other vision and language datasets, and of course, many that are more text-based. And we’ve seen, for example, some recent papers showing that actually MathVista remains one of the most challenging ones. So I think it’s probably going to stay around for a while because of the difficulty it represents. So it’s open source of available datasets that everybody can use, and I very much encourage people to use it.

HUIZINGA: Is it on GitHub?

GALLEY: Yes, it’s on GitHub.

HUIZINGA: So what’s next on the research agenda for helping LLMs get better at math, Michel? What are the big challenges in the field yet? I mean, you’ve alluded to many of them already, sort of, but what’s next on your research agenda?

GALLEY: Well, I would say what we found so far is these models are very good at processing the textual part of problems it’s given, to the model, but you have the equivalent in images actually harder somehow. So I think a lot more work needs to be done in terms of vision capabilities, in terms of reasoning over images, because the capabilities you will see in text are actually quite advanced, whereas the equivalent in images doesn’t seem that good. I mean, a fair disclaimer: my background is more on the text side, [LAUGHTER] so some of my colleagues on the paper are more on the vision side, so maybe if a listener maybe run into some of our coauthors at the conference, they might want to talk to these vision people because that’s less of my background. [LAUGHS]

HUIZINGA: Well, and if you think about Venn diagrams, you know, you’ve got people that are doing text, people that are doing vision, and then the people that are trying to do both to see how the worlds collide.


Well, Michel Galley, thanks for joining us today. And to our listeners, thanks for tuning in. If you want to read this paper, you can find a link at aka.ms/abstracts (opens in new tab), or you can find it on arXiv. You can also read it on the website for the International Conference on Learning Representations, or ICLR. And if you happen to be at the ICLR conference this week, you can hear more about it there. See you next time on Abstracts!


The post Abstracts: May 6, 2024 appeared first on Microsoft Research.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.