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Natural Language Generation (NLG) accepts input data in the form of images, videos, or text and generates corresponding natural language text as output. Existing NLG methods mainly adopt a supervised approach and rely heavily on coupled data-to-text pairs. However, for many targeted scenarios and for non-English languages, sufficient quantities of labeled data are often not available. As a result, it is necessary to collect and label data-text pairs for training, which is both costly and time-consuming. To relax the dependency on labeled data of downstream tasks, we propose an intuitive and effective zero-shot learning framework, ZeroNLG, which can deal with multiple NLG tasks, including image-to-text (image captioning), video-to-text (video captioning), and text-to-text (neural machine translation), across English, Chinese, German, and French within a unified framework. ZeroNLG does not require any labeled downstream pairs for training. During training, ZeroNLG (i) projects different domains (across modalities and languages) to corresponding coordinates in a shared common latent space; (ii) bridges different domains by aligning their corresponding coordinates in this space; and (iii) builds an unsupervised multilingual auto-encoder to learn to generate text by reconstructing the input text given its coordinate in shared latent space. Consequently, during inference, based on the data-to-text pipeline, ZeroNLG can generate target sentences across different languages given the coordinate of input data in the common space. Within this unified framework, given visual (imaging or video) data as input, ZeroNLG can perform zero-shot visual captioning; given textual sentences as input, ZeroNLG can perform zero-shot machine translation. We present the results of extensive experiments on twelve NLG tasks, showing that, without using any labeled downstream pairs for training, ZeroNLG generates high-quality and "believable" outputs and significantly outperforms existing zero-shot methods. Our code and data are available at

Original publication




Journal article


IEEE Trans Pattern Anal Mach Intell

Publication Date