Clippers 3/29: Vishal Sunder on Tokenwise Contrastive Pretraining for Finer Speech-to-BERT Alignment in End-to-End Speech-to-Intent Systems

Recent advances in End-to-End (E2E) Spoken Language Understanding (SLU) have been primarily due to effective pretraining of speech representations. One such pretraining paradigm is the distillation of semantic knowledge from state-of-the-art text-based models like BERT to speech encoder neural networks. This work is a step towards doing the same in a much more efficient and fine-grained manner where we align speech embeddings and BERT embeddings on a token-by-token basis. We introduce a simple yet novel technique that uses a cross-modal attention mechanism to extract token-level contextual embeddings from a speech encoder such that these can be directly compared and aligned with BERT based contextual embeddings. This alignment is performed using a novel tokenwise contrastive loss. Fine-tuning such a pretrained model to perform intent recognition using speech directly yields state-of-the-art performance on two widely used SLU datasets. Our model improves further when fine-tuned with additional regularization using SpecAugment especially when speech is noisy, giving an absolute improvement as high as 8% over previous results.