Pointer Networks

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 28 (NIPS 2015)

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Oriol Vinyals, Meire Fortunato, Navdeep Jaitly


We introduce a new neural architecture to learn the conditional probability of an output sequence with elements that arediscrete tokens corresponding to positions in an input sequence.Such problems cannot be trivially addressed by existent approaches such as sequence-to-sequence and Neural Turing Machines,because the number of target classes in eachstep of the output depends on the length of the input, which is variable.Problems such as sorting variable sized sequences, and various combinatorialoptimization problems belong to this class. Our model solvesthe problem of variable size output dictionaries using a recently proposedmechanism of neural attention. It differs from the previous attentionattempts in that, instead of using attention to blend hidden units of anencoder to a context vector at each decoder step, it uses attention asa pointer to select a member of the input sequence as the output. We call this architecture a Pointer Net (Ptr-Net).We show Ptr-Nets can be used to learn approximate solutions to threechallenging geometric problems -- finding planar convex hulls, computingDelaunay triangulations, and the planar Travelling Salesman Problem-- using training examples alone. Ptr-Nets not only improve oversequence-to-sequence with input attention, butalso allow us to generalize to variable size output dictionaries.We show that the learnt models generalize beyond the maximum lengthsthey were trained on. We hope our results on these taskswill encourage a broader exploration of neural learning for discreteproblems.