Tag Archives: NLP

Towards Helpful Robots: Grounding Language in Robotic Affordances

Over the last several years, we have seen significant progress in applying machine learning to robotics. However, robotic systems today are capable of executing only very short, hard-coded commands, such as “Pick up an apple,” because they tend to perform best with clear tasks and rewards. They struggle with learning to perform long-horizon tasks and reasoning about abstract goals, such as a user prompt like “I just worked out, can you get me a healthy snack?”

Meanwhile, recent progress in training language models (LMs) has led to systems that can perform a wide range of language understanding and generation tasks with impressive results. However, these language models are inherently not grounded in the physical world due to the nature of their training process: a language model generally does not interact with its environment nor observe the outcome of its responses. This can result in it generating instructions that may be illogical, impractical or unsafe for a robot to complete in a physical context. For example, when prompted with “I spilled my drink, can you help?” the language model GPT-3 responds with “You could try using a vacuum cleaner,” a suggestion that may be unsafe or impossible for the robot to execute. When asking the FLAN language model the same question, it apologizes for the spill with "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to spill it,” which is not a very useful response. Therefore, we asked ourselves, is there an effective way to combine advanced language models with robot learning algorithms to leverage the benefits of both?

In “Do As I Can, Not As I Say: Grounding Language in Robotic Affordances”, we present a novel approach, developed in partnership with Everyday Robots, that leverages advanced language model knowledge to enable a physical agent, such as a robot, to follow high-level textual instructions for physically-grounded tasks, while grounding the language model in tasks that are feasible within a specific real-world context. We evaluate our method, which we call PaLM-SayCan, by placing robots in a real kitchen setting and giving them tasks expressed in natural language. We observe highly interpretable results for temporally-extended complex and abstract tasks, like “I just worked out, please bring me a snack and a drink to recover.” Specifically, we demonstrate that grounding the language model in the real world nearly halves errors over non-grounded baselines. We are also excited to release a robot simulation setup where the research community can test this approach.

With PaLM-SayCan, the robot acts as the language model’s “hands and eyes,” while the language model supplies high-level semantic knowledge about the task.

A Dialog Between User and Robot, Facilitated by the Language Model
Our approach uses the knowledge contained in language models (Say) to determine and score actions that are useful towards high-level instructions. It also uses an affordance function (Can) that enables real-world-grounding and determines which actions are possible to execute in a given environment. Using the the PaLM language model, we call this PaLM-SayCan.

Our approach selects skills based on what the language model scores as useful to the high level instruction and what the affordance model scores as possible.

Our system can be seen as a dialog between the user and robot, facilitated by the language model. The user starts by giving an instruction that the language model turns into a sequence of steps for the robot to execute. This sequence is filtered using the robot’s skillset to determine the most feasible plan given its current state and environment. The model determines the probability of a specific skill successfully making progress toward completing the instruction by multiplying two probabilities: (1) task-grounding (i.e., a skill language description) and (2) world-grounding (i.e., skill feasibility in the current state).

There are additional benefits of our approach in terms of its safety and interpretability. First, by allowing the LM to score different options rather than generate the most likely output, we effectively constrain the LM to only output one of the pre-selected responses. In addition, the user can easily understand the decision making process by looking at the separate language and affordance scores, rather than a single output.

PaLM-SayCan is also interpretable: at each step, we can see the top options it considers based on their language score (blue), affordance score (red), and combined score (green).

Training Policies and Value Functions
Each skill in the agent’s skillset is defined as a policy with a short language description (e.g., “pick up the can”), represented as embeddings, and an affordance function that indicates the probability of completing the skill from the robot’s current state. To learn the affordance functions, we use sparse reward functions set to 1.0 for a successful execution, and 0.0 otherwise.

We use image-based behavioral cloning (BC) to train the language-conditioned policies and temporal-difference-based (TD) reinforcement learning (RL) to train the value functions. To train the policies, we collected data from 68,000 demos performed by 10 robots over 11 months and added 12,000 successful episodes, filtered from a set of autonomous episodes of learned policies. We then learned the language conditioned value functions using MT-Opt in the Everyday Robots simulator. The simulator complements our real robot fleet with a simulated version of the skills and environment, which is transformed using RetinaGAN to reduce the simulation-to-real gap. We bootstrapped simulation policies’ performance by using demonstrations to provide initial successes, and then continuously improved RL performance with online data collection in simulation.

Given a high-level instruction, our approach combines the probabilities from the language model with the probabilities from the value function (VF) to select the next skill to perform. This process is repeated until the high-level instruction is successfully completed.

Performance on Temporally-Extended, Complex, and Abstract Instructions
To test our approach, we use robots from Everyday Robots paired with PaLM. We place the robots in a kitchen environment containing common objects and evaluate them on 101 instructions to test their performance across various robot and environment states, instruction language complexity and time horizon. Specifically, these instructions were designed to showcase the ambiguity and complexity of language rather than to provide simple, imperative queries, enabling queries such as “I just worked out, how would you bring me a snack and a drink to recover?” instead of “Can you bring me water and an apple?”

We use two metrics to evaluate the system’s performance: (1) the plan success rate, indicating whether the robot chose the right skills for the instruction, and (2) the execution success rate, indicating whether it performed the instruction successfully. We compare two language models, PaLM and FLAN (a smaller language model fine-tuned on instruction answering) with and without the affordance grounding as well as the underlying policies running directly with natural language (Behavioral Cloning in the table below). The results show that the system using PaLM with affordance grounding (PaLM-SayCan) chooses the correct sequence of skills 84% of the time and executes them successfully 74% of the time, reducing errors by 50% compared to FLAN and compared to PaLM without robotic grounding. This is particularly exciting because it represents the first time we can see how an improvement in language models translates to a similar improvement in robotics. This result indicates a potential future where robotics is able to ride the wave of progress that we have been observing in language models, bringing these subfields of research closer together.

Algorithm     Plan     Execute
PaLM-SayCan     84%     74%
PaLM     67%     -
FLAN-SayCan     70%     61%
FLAN     38%     -
Behavioral Cloning     0%     0%
PaLM-SayCan halves errors compared to PaLM without affordances and compared to FLAN over 101 tasks.
SayCan demonstrated successful planning for 84% of the 101 test instructions when combined with PaLM.

If you're interested in learning more about this project from the researchers themselves, please check out the video below:

Conclusion and Future Work
We’re excited about the progress that we’ve seen with PaLM-SayCan, an interpretable and general approach to leveraging knowledge from language models that enables a robot to follow high-level textual instructions to perform physically-grounded tasks. Our experiments on a number of real-world robotic tasks demonstrate the ability to plan and complete long-horizon, abstract, natural language instructions at a high success rate. We believe that PaLM-SayCan’s interpretability allows for safe real-world user interaction with robots. As we explore future directions for this work, we hope to better understand how information gained via the robot’s real-world experience could be leveraged to improve the language model and to what extent natural language is the right ontology for programming robots. We have open-sourced a robot simulation setup, which we hope will provide researchers with a valuable resource for future research that combines robotic learning with advanced language models. The research community can visit the project’s GitHub page and website to learn more.

We’d like to thank our coauthors Michael Ahn, Anthony Brohan, Noah Brown, Yevgen Chebotar, Omar Cortes, Byron David, Chelsea Finn, Kelly Fu, Keerthana Gopalakrishnan, Alex Herzog, Daniel Ho, Jasmine Hsu, Julian Ibarz, Alex Irpan, Eric Jang, Rosario Jauregui Ruano, Kyle Jeffrey, Sally Jesmonth, Nikhil J Joshi, Ryan Julian, Dmitry Kalashnikov, Yuheng Kuang, Kuang-Huei Lee, Sergey Levine, Yao Lu, Linda Luu, Carolina Parada, Peter Pastor, Jornell Quiambao, Kanishka Rao, Jarek Rettinghouse, Diego Reyes, Pierre Sermanet, Nicolas Sievers, Clayton Tan, Alexander Toshev, Vincent Vanhoucke, Fei Xia, Ted Xiao, Peng Xu, Sichun Xu, Mengyuan Yan, and Andy Zeng. We’d also like to thank Yunfei Bai, Matt Bennice, Maarten Bosma, Justin Boyd, Bill Byrne, Kendra Byrne, Noah Constant, Pete Florence, Laura Graesser, Rico Jonschkowski, Daniel Kappler, Hugo Larochelle, Benjamin Lee, Adrian Li, Suraj Nair, Krista Reymann, Jeff Seto, Dhruv Shah, Ian Storz, Razvan Surdulescu, and Vincent Zhao for their help and support in various aspects of the project. And we’d like to thank Tom Small for creating many of the animations in this post.

Source: Google AI Blog

Efficient Sequence Modeling for On-Device ML

The increasing demand for machine learning (ML) model inference on-device (for mobile devices, tablets, etc.) is driven by the rise of compute-intensive applications, the need to keep certain data on device for privacy and security reasons, and the desire to provide services when a network connection may not be available. However, on-device inference introduces a myriad of challenges, ranging from modeling to platform support requirements. These challenges relate to how different architectures are designed to optimize memory and computation, while still trying to maintain the quality of the model. From a platform perspective, the issue is identifying operations and building on top of them in a way that can generalize well across different product use cases.

In previous research, we combined a novel technique for generating embeddings (called projection-based embeddings) with efficient architectures like QRNN (pQRNN) and proved them to be competent for a number of classification problems. Augmenting these with distillation techniques provides an additional bump in end-to-end quality. Although this is an effective approach, it is not scalable to bigger and more extensive vocabularies (i.e., all possible Unicode or word tokens that can be fed to the model). Additionally, the output from the projection operation itself doesn’t contain trainable weights to take advantage of pre-training the model.

Token-free models presented in ByT5 are a good starting point for on-device modeling that can address pre-training and scalability issues without the need to increase the size of the model. This is possible because these approaches treat text inputs as a stream of bytes (each byte has a value that ranges from 0 to 255) that can reduce the vocabulary size for the embedding tables from ~30,000 to 256. Although ByT5 presents a compelling alternative for on-device modeling, going from word-level representation to byte stream representation increases the sequence lengths linearly; with an average word length of four characters and a single character having up to four bytes, the byte sequence length increases proportionally to the word length. This can lead to a significant increase in inference latency and computational costs.

We address this problem by developing and releasing three novel byte-stream sequence models for the SeqFlowLite library (ByteQRNN, ByteTransformer and ByteFunnelTransformer), all of which can be pre-trained on unsupervised data and can be fine-tuned for specific tasks. These models leverage recent innovations introduced by Charformer, including a fast character Transformer-based model that uses a gradient-based subword tokenization (GBST) approach to operate directly at the byte level, as well as a “soft” tokenization approach, which allows us to learn token boundaries and reduce sequence lengths. In this post, we focus on ByteQRNN and demonstrate that the performance of a pre-trained ByteQRNN model is comparable to BERT, despite being 300x smaller.

Sequence Model Architecture
We leverage pQRNN, ByT5 and Charformer along with platform optimizations, such as in-training quantization (which tracks minimum and maximum float values for model activations and weights for quantizing the inference model) that reduces model sizes by one-fourth, to develop an end-to-end model called ByteQRNN (shown below). First, we use a ByteSplitter operation to split the input string into a byte stream and feed it to a smaller embedding table that has a vocabulary size of 259 (256 + 3 additional meta tokens).

The output from the embedding layer is fed to the GBST layer, which is equipped with in-training quantization and combines byte-level representations with the efficiency of subword tokenization while enabling end-to-end learning of latent subwords. We “soft” tokenize the byte stream sequences by enumerating and combining each subword block length with scores (computed with a quantized dense layer) at each strided token position (i.e., at token positions that are selected at regular intervals). Next, we downsample the byte stream to manageable sequence length and feed it to the encoder layer.

The output from the GBST layer can be downsampled to a lower sequence length for efficient encoder computation or can be used by an encoder, like Funnel Transformer, which pools the query length and reduces the self-attention computation to create the ByteFunnelTransformer model. The encoder in the end-to-end model can be replaced with any other encoder layer, such as the Transformer from the SeqFlowLite library, to create a ByteTransformer model.

A diagram of a generic end-to-end sequence model using byte stream input. The ByteQRNN model uses a QRNN encoder from the SeqFlowLite library.

In addition to the input embeddings (i.e., the output from the embedding layer described above), we go a step further to build an effective sequence-to-sequence (seq2seq) model. We do so by taking ByteQRNN and adding a Transformer-based decoder model along with a quantized beam search (or tree exploration) to go with it. The quantized beam search module reduces the inference latency when generating decoder outputs by computing the most likely beams (i.e., possible output sequences) using the logarithmic sum of previous and current probabilities and returns the resulting top beams. Here the system uses a more efficient 8-bit integer (uint8) format, compared to a typical single-precision floating-point format (float32) model.

The decoder Transformer model uses a merged attention sublayer (MAtt) to reduce the complexity of the decoder self-attention from quadratic to linear, thereby lowering the end-to-end latency. For each decoding step, MAtt uses a fixed-size cache for decoder self-attention compared to the increasing cache size of a traditional transformer decoder. The following figure illustrates how the beam search module interacts with the decoder layer to generate output tokens on-device using an edge device (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, etc.).

A comparison of cloud server decoding and on-device (edge device) implementation. Left: Cloud server beam search employs a Transformer-based decoder model with quadratic time self-attention in float32, which has an increasing cache size for each decoding step. Right: The edge device implementation employs a quantized beam search module along with a fixed-size cache and a linear time self-attention computation.

After developing ByteQRNN, we evaluate its performance on the civil_comments dataset using the area under the curve (AUC) metric and compare it to a pre-trained ByteQRNN and BERT (shown below). We demonstrate that the fine-tuned ByteQRNN improves the overall quality and brings its performance closer to the BERT models, despite being 300x smaller. Since SeqFlowLite models support in-training quantization that reduces model sizes by one-fourth, the resulting models scale well to low-compute devices. We chose multilingual data sources that related to the task for pre-training both BERT and byte stream models to achieve the best possible performance.

Comparison of ByteQRNN with fine-tuned ByteQRNN and BERT on the civil_comments dataset.

Following up on our previous work with pQRNN, we evaluate byte stream models for on-device use to enable pre-training and thereby improve model performance for on-device deployment. We present an evaluation for ByteQRNN with and without pre-training and demonstrate that the performance of the pre-trained ByteQRNN is comparable to BERT, despite being 300x smaller. In addition to ByteQRNN, we are also releasing ByteTransformer and ByteFunnelTransformer, two models which use different encoders, along with the merged attention decoder model and the beam search driver to run the inference through the SeqFlowLite library. We hope these models will provide researchers and product developers with valuable resources for future on-device deployments.

We would like to thank Khoa Trinh, Jeongwoo Ko, Peter Young and Yicheng Fan for helping with open-sourcing and evaluating the model. Thanks to Prabhu Kaliamoorthi for all the brainstorming and ideation. Thanks to Vinh Tran, Jai Gupta and Yi Tay for their help with pre-training byte stream models. Thanks to Ruoxin Sang, Haoyu Zhang, Ce Zheng, Chuanhao Zhuge and Jieying Luo for helping with the TPU training. Many thanks to Erik Vee, Ravi Kumar and the Learn2Compress leadership for sponsoring the project and their support and encouragement. Finally, we would like to thank Tom Small for the animated figure used in this post.

Source: Google AI Blog

LIMoE: Learning Multiple Modalities with One Sparse Mixture of Experts Model

Sparse models stand out among the most promising approaches for the future of deep learning. Instead of every part of a model processing every input (“dense” modeling), sparse models employing conditional computation learn to route individual inputs to different “experts” in a potentially huge network. This has many benefits. First, model size can increase while keeping computational cost constant — an effective and environmentally friendlier way to scale models, which is often key to high performance. Sparsity also naturally compartmentalizes neural networks. Dense models that learn many different tasks simultaneously (multitask) or sequentially (continual learning) often suffer negative interference, where too much task variety means it is better to just train one model per task, or catastrophic forgetting, where the model becomes worse at earlier tasks as new ones are added. Sparse models help avoid both these phenomena — by not applying the whole model to all inputs, “experts” in the model can specialize on different tasks or data types while still taking advantage of shared parts of the model.

Research on sparsity has long been pursued at Google Research. Pathways summarizes the research vision of building one single large model that diligently handles thousands of tasks and numerous data modalities. So far there has been considerable progress in sparse unimodal models for language (Switch, Task-MoE, GLaM) and computer vision (Vision MoE). Today, we take another important step towards the Pathways vision by studying large sparse models that simultaneously handle images and text with modality-agnostic routing. A relevant approach is multimodal contrastive learning, which requires a solid understanding of both images and text in order to align pictures with their correct text description. The strongest models that tackle this task to date rely on independent networks for each modality (a “two-tower” approach).

In “Multimodal Contrastive Learning with LIMoE: the Language Image Mixture of Experts”, we present the first large-scale multimodal architecture using a sparse mixture of experts. It simultaneously processes both images and text, but uses sparsely activated experts that naturally specialize. On zero-shot image classification, LIMoE outperforms both comparable dense multimodal models and two-tower approaches. The largest LIMoE achieves 84.1% zero-shot ImageNet accuracy, comparable to more expensive state-of-the-art models. Sparsity enables LIMoE to scale up gracefully and learn to handle very different inputs, addressing the tension between being a jack-of-all-trades generalist and a master-of-one specialist.

The LIMoE architecture contains many “experts” and routers decide which tokens (parts of an image or sentence) go to which experts. After being processed by expert layers (gray) and shared dense layers (brown), a final output layer computes a single vector representation for either an image or a text.

Sparse Mixture of Expert Models
Transformers represent data as a sequence of vectors (or tokens). Though originally developed for text, they can be applied to most things that are representable as a sequence of tokens, e.g., images, videos, and audio. Recent large-scale MoE models add expert layers to the Transformer architecture (e.g., gShard and ST-MoE in natural language processing, and Vision MoE for vision tasks).

A standard Transformer consists of many “blocks”, each containing various different layers. One of these layers is a feed-forward network (FFN). For LIMoE and the works cited above, this single FFN is replaced by an expert layer that contains many parallel FFNs, each of which is an expert. Given a sequence of tokens to process, a simple router learns to predict which experts should handle which tokens. Only a small number of experts are activated per token, meaning although the model capacity is significantly increased by virtue of having so many experts, the actual computational cost is controlled by using them sparsely. If only one expert is activated, the model's cost is roughly equivalent to the standard Transformer model.

LIMoE does precisely that, activating one expert per example, thereby matching the computational cost of the dense baselines. What’s different is that the LIMoE router might see tokens of either image or text data.

A unique failure mode of MoE models occurs when they try to send all tokens to the same expert. Typically this is addressed with auxiliary losses, extra training objectives that encourage balanced expert usage. We found that dealing with multiple modalities interacted with sparsity to cause new failure modes that existing auxiliary losses could not address. To overcome this, we developed new auxiliary losses (more details in the paper) and used routing prioritization (BPR) during training, two innovations that resulted in stable and high performance multimodal models.

The new auxiliary losses (LIMoE aux) and routing prioritization (BPR) stabilized and improved overall performance (left) and increased the success rate of routing behavior (middle and right). A low success rate means the router does not use all the experts available and drops many tokens due to individual expert capacity being reached, which usually indicates the sparse model is not learning well. The combination introduced for LIMoE ensures high routing success rates for both images and text and consequently leads to significantly better performance.

Contrastive Learning with LIMoE
In multimodal contrastive learning, models are trained on paired image-text data (e.g., a photo and its caption). Typically, an image model extracts a representation of images, and a different text model extracts a representation of text. The contrastive learning objective encourages the image and text representations to be close for the same image-text pair and far away for content from different pairs. Such models with aligned representations can be adapted to new tasks without extra training data (“zero-shot”), e.g., an image will be classified as a dog if its representation is closer to the representation of the word “dog” than the word “cat”. This idea scales to thousands of classes and is referred to as zero-shot image classification.

CLIP and ALIGN (both two-tower models) scaled this process to achieve 76.2% and 76.4% zero-shot classification accuracy on the popular ImageNet dataset. We study one-tower models which compute both image and text representations. We find this reduces performance for dense models, likely due to negative interference or insufficient capacity. However, a compute-matched LIMoE not only improves over the one-tower dense model, but also outperforms two-tower dense models. We trained a series of models in a comparable training regimen to CLIP. Our dense L/16 model achieves 73.5% zero-shot accuracy, whereas LIMoE-L/16 gets to 78.6%, even outperforming CLIP’s more expensive, two-tower L/14 model (76.2%). As shown below, LIMoE’s use of sparsity provides a remarkable performance boost over dense models with equivalent cost.

For a given compute cost (x-axis), LIMoE models (circles, solid line) are significantly better than their dense baselines (triangles, dashed line). The architecture indicates the size of the underlying transformer, increasing from left (S/32) to right (L/16). Following standard convention, S (small), B (base), and L (large) refer to model scale. The number refers to the patch size, where smaller patches imply a larger architecture.

LiT and BASIC pushed zero-shot accuracy for dense two-tower models to 84.5% and 85.6% respectively. In addition to scaling, these approaches made use of specialized pre-training methods, repurposing image models that were already of exceptionally high quality. LIMoE-H/14 does not benefit from any pre-training or modality-specific components, but still achieved a comparable 84.1% zero-shot accuracy training from scratch. The scale of these models is also interesting to compare: LiT and BASIC are 2.1B and 3B parameter models. LIMoE-H/14 has 5.6B parameters in total, but via sparsity it only applies 675M parameters per token making it significantly more lightweight.

Data seen during training
Model   Pre-training     Image-text     Total      Parameters per token     ImageNet accuracy  
CLIP - 12.8B 12.8B ~200M 76.2%
ALIGN - 19.8B 19.8B ~410M 76.4%
LiT 25.8B 18.2B 44.0B 1.1B 84.5%
BASIC 19.7B 32.8B 52.5B 1.5B 85.6%
LIMoE H/14    - 23.3B 23.3B 675M 84.1%

Understanding LIMoE’s Behavior
LIMoE was motivated by the intuition that sparse conditional computation enables a generalist multimodal model to still develop the specialization needed to excel at understanding each modality. We analyzed LIMoE’s expert layers and uncovered a few interesting phenomena.

First, we see the emergence of modality-specialized experts. In our training setup there are many more image tokens than text tokens, so all experts tend to process at least some images, but some experts process either mostly images, mostly text, or both.

Distributions for an eight expert LIMoE; percentages indicate the amount of image tokens processed by the expert. There are one or two experts clearly specialized on text (shown by the mostly blue experts), usually two to four image specialists (mostly red), and the remainder are somewhere in the middle.

There are also some clear qualitative patterns among the image experts — e.g., in most LIMoE models, there is an expert that processes all image patches that contain text. In the example below, one expert processes fauna and greenery, and another processes human hands.

LIMoE chooses an expert for each token. Here we show which image tokens go to which experts on one of the layers of LIMoE-H/14. Despite not being trained to do so, we observe the emergence of semantic experts that specialize in specific topics such as plants or wheels.

Moving Forward
Multimodal models that handle many tasks are a promising route forward, and there are two key ingredients for success: scale, and the ability to avoid interference between distinct tasks and modalities while taking advantage of synergies. Sparse conditional computation is an excellent way of doing both. It enables performant and efficient generalist models that also have the capacity and flexibility for the specialization necessary to excel at individual tasks, as demonstrated by LIMoE’s solid performance with less compute.

We thank our co-authors on this work: Joan Puigcerver, Rodolphe Jenatton and Neil Houlsby. We also thank Andreas Steiner, Xiao Wang and Xiaohua Zhai, who led early explorations into dense single-tower models for contrastive multimodal learning, and also were instrumental in providing data access. We enjoyed useful discussions with André Susano Pinto, Maxim Neumann, Barret Zoph, Liam Fedus, Wei Han and Josip Djolonga. Finally, we would also like to thank and acknowledge Tom Small for the awesome animated figure used in this post.

Source: Google AI Blog

Language Models Perform Reasoning via Chain of Thought

In recent years, scaling up the size of language models has been shown to be a reliable way to improve performance on a range of natural language processing (NLP) tasks. Today’s language models at the scale of 100B or more parameters achieve strong performance on tasks like sentiment analysis and machine translation, even with little or no training examples. Even the largest language models, however, can still struggle with certain multi-step reasoning tasks, such as math word problems and commonsense reasoning. How might we enable language models to perform such reasoning tasks?

In “Chain of Thought Prompting Elicits Reasoning in Large Language Models,” we explore a prompting method for improving the reasoning abilities of language models. Called chain of thought prompting, this method enables models to decompose multi-step problems into intermediate steps. With chain of thought prompting, language models of sufficient scale (~100B parameters) can solve complex reasoning problems that are not solvable with standard prompting methods.

Comparison to Standard Prompting
With standard prompting (popularized by GPT-3) the model is given examples of input–output pairs (formatted as questions and answers) before being asked to predict the answer for a test-time example (shown below on the left). In chain of thought prompting (below, right), the model is prompted to produce intermediate reasoning steps before giving the final answer to a multi-step problem. The idea is that a model-generated chain of thought would mimic an intuitive thought process when working through a multi-step reasoning problem. While producing a thought process has been previously accomplished via fine-tuning, we show that such thought processes can be elicited by including a few examples of chain of thought via prompting only, which does not require a large training dataset or modifying the language model’s weights.

Whereas standard prompting asks the model to directly give the answer to a multi-step reasoning problem, chain of thought prompting induces the model to decompose the problem into intermediate reasoning steps, in this case leading to a correct final answer.

Chain of thought reasoning allows models to decompose complex problems into intermediate steps that are solved individually. Moreover, the language-based nature of chain of thought makes it applicable to any task that a person could solve via language. We find through empirical experiments that chain of thought prompting can improve performance on various reasoning tasks, and that successful chain of thought reasoning is an emergent property of model scale — that is, the benefits of chain of thought prompting only materialize with a sufficient number of model parameters (around 100B).

Arithmetic Reasoning
One class of tasks where language models typically struggle is arithmetic reasoning (i.e., solving math word problems). Two benchmarks in arithmetic reasoning are MultiArith and GSM8K, which test the ability of language models to solve multi-step math problems similar to the one shown in the figure above. We evaluate both the LaMDA collection of language models ranging from 422M to 137B parameters, as well as the PaLM collection of language models ranging from 8B to 540B parameters. We manually compose chains of thought to include in the examples for chain of thought prompting.

For these two benchmarks, using standard prompting leads to relatively flat scaling curves: increasing the scale of the model does not substantially improve performance (shown below). However, we find that when using chain of thought prompting, increasing model scale leads to improved performance that substantially outperforms standard prompting for large model sizes.

Employing chain of thought prompting enables language models to solve arithmetic reasoning problems for which standard prompting has a mostly flat scaling curve.

On the GSM8K dataset of math word problems, PaLM shows remarkable performance when scaled to 540B parameters. As shown in the table below, combining chain of thought prompting with the 540B parameter PaLM model leads to new state-of-the-art performance of 58%, surpassing the prior state of the art of 55% achieved by fine-tuning GPT-3 175B on a large training set and then ranking potential solutions via a specially trained verifier. Moreover, follow-up work on self-consistency shows that the performance of chain of thought prompting can be improved further by taking the majority vote of a broad set of generated reasoning processes, which results in 74% accuracy on GSM8K.

Chain of thought prompting with PaLM achieves a new state of the art on the GSM8K benchmark of math word problems. For a fair comparison against fine-tuned GPT-3 baselines, the chain of thought prompting results shown here also use an external calculator to compute basic arithmetic functions (i.e., addition, subtraction, multiplication and division).

Commonsense Reasoning
In addition to arithmetic reasoning, we consider whether the language-based nature of chain of thought prompting also makes it applicable to commonsense reasoning, which involves reasoning about physical and human interactions under the presumption of general background knowledge. For these evaluations, we use the CommonsenseQA and StrategyQA benchmarks, as well as two domain-specific tasks from BIG-Bench collaboration regarding date understanding and sports understanding. Example questions are below:

As shown below, for CommonsenseQA, StrategyQA, and Date Understanding, performance improved with model scale, and employing chain of thought prompting led to additional small improvements. Chain of thought prompting had the biggest improvement on sports understanding, for which PaLM 540B’s chain of thought performance surpassed that of an unaided sports enthusiast (95% vs 84%).

Chain of thought prompting also improves performance on various types of commonsense reasoning tasks.

Chain of thought prompting is a simple and broadly applicable method for improving the ability of language models to perform various reasoning tasks. Through experiments on arithmetic and commonsense reasoning, we find that chain of thought prompting is an emergent property of model scale. Broadening the range of reasoning tasks that language models can perform will hopefully inspire further work on language-based approaches to reasoning.

It was an honor and privilege to work with Xuezhi Wang, Dale Schuurmans, Maarten Bosma, Ed Chi, Sharan Narang, Aakanksha Chowdhery, and Quoc Le on this project.

Source: Google AI Blog

FormNet: Beyond Sequential Modeling for Form-Based Document Understanding

Form-based document understanding is a growing research topic because of its practical potential for automatically converting unstructured text data into structured information to gain insight about a document’s contents. Recent sequence modeling, which is a self-attention mechanism that directly models relationships between all words in a selection of text, has demonstrated state-of-the-art performance on natural language tasks. A natural approach to handle form document understanding tasks is to first serialize the form documents (usually in a left-to-right, top-to-bottom fashion) and then apply state-of-the-art sequence models to them.

However, form documents often have more complex layouts that contain structured objects, such as tables, columns, and text blocks. Their variety of layout patterns makes serialization difficult, substantially limiting the performance of strict serialization approaches. These unique challenges in form document structural modeling have been largely underexplored in literature.

An illustration of the form document information extraction task using an example from the FUNSD dataset.

In “FormNet: Structural Encoding Beyond Sequential Modeling in Form Document Information Extraction”, presented at ACL 2022, we propose a structure-aware sequence model, called FormNet, to mitigate the sub-optimal serialization of forms for document information extraction. First, we design a Rich Attention (RichAtt) mechanism that leverages the 2D spatial relationship between word tokens for more accurate attention weight calculation. Then, we construct Super-Tokens (tokens that aggregate semantically meaningful information from neighboring tokens) for each word by embedding representations from their neighboring tokens through a graph convolutional network (GCN). Finally, we demonstrate that FormNet outperforms existing methods, while using less pre-training data, and achieves state-of-the-art performance on the CORD, FUNSD, and Payment benchmarks.

FormNet for Information Extraction
Given a form document, we first use the BERT-multilingual vocabulary and optical character recognition (OCR) engine to identify and tokenize words. We then feed the tokens and their corresponding 2D coordinates into a GCN for graph construction and message passing. Next, we use Extended Transformer Construction (ETC) layers with the proposed RichAtt mechanism to continue to process the GCN-encoded structure-aware tokens for schema learning (i.e., semantic entity extraction). Finally, we use the Viterbi algorithm, which finds a sequence that maximizes the posterior probability, to decode and obtain the final entities for output.

Extended Transformer Construction (ETC)
We adopt ETC as the FormNet model backbone. ETC scales to relatively long inputs by replacing standard attention, which has quadratic complexity, with a sparse global-local attention mechanism that distinguishes between global and long input tokens. The global tokens attend to and are attended by all tokens, but the long tokens attend only locally to other long tokens within a specified local radius, reducing the complexity so that it is more manageable for long sequences.

Rich Attention
Our novel architecture, RichAtt, avoids the deficiencies of absolute and relative embeddings by avoiding embeddings entirely. Instead, it computes the order of and log distance between pairs of tokens with respect to the x and y axes on the layout grid, and adjusts the pre-softmax attention scores of each pair as a direct function of these values.

In a traditional attention layer, each token representation is linearly transformed into a Query vector, a Key vector, and a Value vector. A token “looks” for other tokens from which it might want to absorb information (i.e., attend to) by finding the ones with Key vectors that create relatively high scores when matrix-multiplied (called Matmul) by its Query vector and then softmax-normalized. The token then sums together the Value vectors of all other tokens in the sentence, weighted by their score, and passes this up the network, where it will normally be added to the token’s original input vector.

However, other features beyond the Query and Key vectors are often relevant to the decision of how strongly a token should attend to another given token, such as the order they’re in, how many other tokens separate them, or how many pixels apart they are. In order to incorporate these features into the system, we use a trainable parametric function paired with an error network, which takes the observed feature and the output of the parametric function and returns a penalty that reduces the dot product attention score.

The network uses the Query and Key vectors to consider what value some low-level feature (e.g., distance) should take if the tokens are related, and penalizes the attention score based on the error.

At a high level, for each attention head at each layer, FormNet examines each pair of token representations, determines the ideal features the tokens should have if there is a meaningful relationship between them, and penalizes the attention score according to how different the actual features are from the ideal ones. This allows the model to learn constraints on attention using logical implication.

A visualization of how RichAtt might act on a sentence. There are three adjectives that the word “crow” might attend to. “Lazy” is to the right, so it probably does not modify “crow” and its attention edge is penalized. “Sly” is many tokens away, so its attention edge is also penalized. “Cunning” receives no significant penalties, so by process of elimination, it is the best candidate for attention.

Furthermore, if one assumes that the softmax-normalized attention scores represent a probability distribution, and the distributions for the observed features are known, then this algorithm — including the exact choice of parametric functions and error functions — falls out algebraically, meaning FormNet has a mathematical correctness to it that is lacking from many alternatives (including relative embeddings).

Super-Tokens by Graph Learning
The key to sparsifying attention mechanisms in ETC for long sequence modeling is to have every token only attend to tokens that are nearby in the serialized sequence. Although the RichAtt mechanism empowers the transformers by taking the spatial layout structures into account, poor serialization can still block significant attention weight calculation between related word tokens.

To further mitigate the issue, we construct a graph to connect nearby tokens in a form document. We design the edges of the graph based on strong inductive biases so that they have higher probabilities of belonging to the same entity type. For each token, we obtain its Super-Token embedding by applying graph convolutions along these edges to aggregate semantically relevant information from neighboring tokens. We then use these Super-Tokens as an input to the RichAtt ETC architecture. This means that even though an entity may get broken up into multiple segments due to poor serialization, the Super-Tokens learned by the GCN will have retained much of the context of the entity phrase.

An illustration of the word-level graph, with blue edges between tokens, of a FUNSD document.

Key Results
The Figure below shows model size vs. F1 score (the harmonic mean of the precision and recall) for recent approaches on the CORD benchmark. FormNet-A2 outperforms the most recent DocFormer while using a model that is 2.5x smaller. FormNet-A3 achieves state-of-the-art performance with a 97.28% F1 score. For more experimental results, please refer to the paper.

Model Size vs. Entity Extraction F1 Score on CORD benchmark. FormNet significantly outperforms other recent approaches in absolute F1 performance and parameter efficiency.

We study the importance of RichAtt and Super-Token by GCN on the large-scale masked language modeling (MLM) pre-training task across three FormNets. Both RichAtt and GCN components improve upon the ETC baseline on reconstructing the masked tokens by a large margin, showing the effectiveness of their structural encoding capability on form documents. The best performance is obtained when incorporating both RichAtt and GCN.

Performance of the Masked-Language Modeling (MLM) pre-training. Both the proposed RichAtt and Super-Token by GCN components improve upon ETC baseline by a large margin, showing the effectiveness of their structural encoding capability on large-scale form documents.

Using BertViz, we visualize the local-to-local attention scores for specific examples from the CORD dataset for the standard ETC and FormNet models. Qualitatively, we confirm that the tokens attend primarily to other tokens within the same visual block for FormNet. Moreover for that model, specific attention heads are attending to tokens aligned horizontally, which is a strong signal of meaning for form documents. No clear attention pattern emerges for the ETC model, suggesting the RichAtt and Super-Token by GCN enable the model to learn the structural cues and leverage layout information effectively.

The attention scores for ETC and FormNet (ETC+RichAtt+GCN) models. Unlike the ETC model, the FormNet model makes tokens attend to other tokens within the same visual blocks, along with tokens aligned horizontally, thus strongly leveraging structural cues.

We present FormNet, a novel model architecture for form-based document understanding. We determine that the novel RichAtt mechanism and Super-Token components help the ETC transformer excel at form understanding in spite of sub-optimal, noisy serialization. We demonstrate that FormNet recovers local syntactic information that may have been lost during text serialization and achieves state-of-the-art performance on three benchmarks.

This research was conducted by Chen-Yu Lee, Chun-Liang Li, Timothy Dozat, Vincent Perot, Guolong Su, Nan Hua, Joshua Ainslie, Renshen Wang, Yasuhisa Fujii, and Tomas Pfister. Thanks to Evan Huang, Shengyang Dai, and Salem Elie Haykal for their valuable feedback, and Tom Small for creating the animation in this post.

Source: Google AI Blog

Guiding Frozen Language Models with Learned Soft Prompts

Large pre-trained language models, which are continuing to grow in size, achieve state-of-art results on many natural language processing (NLP) benchmarks. Since the development of GPT and BERT, standard practice has been to fine-tune models on downstream tasks, which involves adjusting every weight in the network (i.e., model tuning). However, as models become larger, storing and serving a tuned copy of the model for each downstream task becomes impractical.

An appealing alternative is to share across all downstream tasks a single frozen pre-trained language model, in which all weights are fixed. In an exciting development, GPT-3 showed convincingly that a frozen model can be conditioned to perform different tasks through “in-context” learning. With this approach, a user primes the model for a given task through prompt design, i.e., hand-crafting a text prompt with a description or examples of the task at hand. For instance, to condition a model for sentiment analysis, one could attach the prompt, “Is the following movie review positive or negative?” before the input sequence, “This movie was amazing!

Sharing the same frozen model across tasks greatly simplifies serving and allows for efficient mixed-task inference, but unfortunately, this is at the expense of task performance. Text prompts require manual effort to design, and even well-designed prompts still far underperform compared to model tuning. For instance, the performance of a frozen GPT-3 175B parameter model on the SuperGLUE benchmark is 5 points below a fine-tuned T5 model that uses 800 times fewer parameters.

In “The Power of Scale for Parameter-Efficient Prompt Tuning”, presented at EMNLP 2021, we explore prompt tuning, a more efficient and effective method for conditioning frozen models using tunable soft prompts. Just like engineered text prompts, soft prompts are concatenated to the input text. But rather than selecting from existing vocabulary items, the “tokens” of the soft prompt are learnable vectors. This means a soft prompt can be optimized end-to-end over a training dataset. In addition to removing the need for manual design, this allows the prompt to condense information from datasets containing thousands or millions of examples. By comparison, discrete text prompts are typically limited to under 50 examples due to constraints on model input length. We are also excited to release the code and checkpoints to fully reproduce our experiments.

Prompt tuning retains the strong task performance of model tuning, while keeping the pre-trained model frozen, enabling efficient multitask serving.

Prompt Tuning
To create a soft prompt for a given task, we first initialize the prompt as a fixed-length sequence of vectors (e.g., 20 tokens long). We attach these vectors to the beginning of each embedded input and feed the combined sequence into the model. The model’s prediction is compared to the target to calculate a loss, and the error is back-propagated to calculate gradients, however we only apply these gradient updates to our new learnable vectors — keeping the core model frozen. While soft prompts learned in this way are not immediately interpretable, at an intuitive level, the soft prompt is extracting evidence about how to perform a task from the labeled dataset, performing the same role as a manually written text prompt, but without the need to be constrained to discrete language.

Our codebase, implemented in the new JAX-based T5X framework, makes it easy for anyone to replicate this procedure, and provides practical hyperparameter settings, including a large learning rate (0.3), which we found was important for achieving good results.

Since soft prompts have a small parameter footprint (we train prompts with as few as 512 parameters), one can easily pass the model a different prompt along with each input example. This enables mixed-task inference batches, which can streamline serving by sharing one core model across many tasks.

Left: With model tuning, incoming data are routed to task-specific models. Right: With prompt tuning, examples and prompts from different tasks can flow through a single frozen model in large batches, better utilizing serving resources.

Improvement with Scale
When evaluated on SuperGLUE and using a frozen T5 model, prompt tuning significantly outperforms prompt design using either GPT-3 or T5. Furthermore, as model size increases, prompt tuning catches up to the performance level of model tuning. Intuitively, the larger the pre-trained model, the less of a “push” it needs to perform a specific task, and the more capable it is of being adapted in a parameter-efficient way.

As scale increases, prompt tuning matches model tuning, despite tuning 25,000 times fewer parameters.

The effectiveness of prompt tuning at large model scales is especially important, since serving separate copies of a large model can incur significant computational overhead. In our paper, we demonstrate that larger models can be conditioned successfully even with soft prompts as short as 5 tokens. For T5 XXL, this means tuning just 20 thousand parameters to guide the behavior of an 11 billion parameter model.

Resilience to Domain Shift
Another advantage of prompt tuning is its resilience to domain shift. Since model tuning touches every weight in the network, it has the capacity to easily overfit on the provided fine-tuning data and may not generalize well to variations in the task at inference time. By comparison, our learned soft prompts have a small number of parameters, so the solutions they represent may be more generalizable.

To test generalizability, we train prompt tuning and model tuning solutions on one task, and evaluate zero-shot on a closely related task. For example, when we train on the Quora Question Pairs task (i.e., detecting if two questions are duplicates) and evaluate on MRPC (i.e., detecting if two sentences from news articles are paraphrases), prompt tuning achieves +3.2 points higher accuracy than model tuning.

Train    Eval    Tuning    Accuracy    F1
QQP    MRPC    Model    73.1 ±0.9    81.2 ±2.1
Prompt    76.3 ±0.1    84.3 ±0.3
MRPC    QQP    Model    74.9 ±1.3    70.9 ±1.2
Prompt    75.4 ±0.8   69.7 ±0.3   
On zero-shot domain transfer between two paraphrase detection tasks, prompt tuning matches or outperforms model tuning, depending on the direction of transfer.

Looking Forward
Prompt-based learning is an exciting new area that is quickly evolving. While several similar methods have been proposed — such as Prefix Tuning, WARP, and P-Tuningwe discuss their pros and cons and demonstrate that prompt tuning is the simplest and the most parameter efficient method.

In addition to the Prompt Tuning codebase, we’ve also released our LM-adapted T5 checkpoints, which we found to be better-suited for prompt tuning compared to the original T5. This codebase was used for the prompt tuning experiments in FLAN, and the checkpoints were used as a starting point for training the BigScience T0 model. We hope that the research community continues to leverage and extend prompt tuning in future research.

This project was a collaboration between Brian Lester, Rami Al-Rfou and Noah Constant. We are grateful to the following people for feedback, discussion and assistance: Waleed Ammar, Lucas Dixon, Slav Petrov, Colin Raffel, Adam Roberts, Sebastian Ruder, Noam Shazeer, Tu Vu and Linting Xue.

Source: Google AI Blog

LaMDA: Towards Safe, Grounded, and High-Quality Dialog Models for Everything

Language models are becoming more capable than ever before and are helpful in a variety of tasks — translating one language into another, summarizing a long document into a brief highlight, or answering information-seeking questions. Among these, open-domain dialog, where a model needs to be able to converse about any topic, is probably one of the most difficult, with a wide range of potential applications and open challenges. In addition to producing responses that humans judge as sensible, interesting, and specific to the context, dialog models should adhere to Responsible AI practices, and avoid making factual statements that are not supported by external information sources.

Today we’re excited to share recent advances in our “LaMDA: Language Models for Dialog Applications” project. In this post, we’ll give an overview on how we’re making progress towards safe, grounded, and high-quality dialog applications. LaMDA is built by fine-tuning a family of Transformer-based neural language models specialized for dialog, with up to 137B model parameters, and teaching the models to leverage external knowledge sources.

Objectives & Metrics
Defining objectives and metrics is critical to guide training dialog models. LaMDA has three key objectives — Quality, Safety, and Groundedness — each of which we measure using carefully designed metrics:

Quality: We decompose Quality into three dimensions, Sensibleness, Specificity, and Interestingness (SSI), which are evaluated by human raters. Sensibleness refers to whether the model produces responses that make sense in the dialog context (e.g., no common sense mistakes, no absurd responses, and no contradictions with earlier responses). Specificity is measured by judging whether the system's response is specific to the preceding dialog context, and not a generic response that could apply to most contexts (e.g., “ok” or “I don’t know”). Finally, Interestingness measures whether the model produces responses that are also insightful, unexpected or witty, and are therefore more likely to create better dialog.

Safety: We’re also making progress towards addressing important questions related to the development and deployment of Responsible AI. Our Safety metric is composed of an illustrative set of safety objectives that captures the behavior that the model should exhibit in a dialog. These objectives attempt to constrain the model’s output to avoid any unintended results that create risks of harm for the user, and to avoid reinforcing unfair bias. For example, these objectives train the model to avoid producing outputs that contain violent or gory content, promote slurs or hateful stereotypes towards groups of people, or contain profanity. Our research towards developing a practical Safety metric represents very early work, and there is still a great deal of progress for us to make in this area.

Groundedness: The current generation of language models often generate statements that seem plausible, but actually contradict facts established in known external sources. This motivates our study of groundedness in LaMDA. Groundedness is defined as the percentage of responses with claims about the external world that can be supported by authoritative external sources, as a share of all responses containing claims about the external world. A related metric, Informativeness, is defined as the percentage of responses with information about the external world that can be supported by known sources, as a share of all responses. Therefore, casual responses that do not carry any real world information (e.g., “That’s a great idea”), affect Informativeness but not Groundedness. While grounding LaMDA generated responses in known sources does not in itself guarantee factual accuracy, it allows users or external systems to judge the validity of a response based on the reliability of its source.

LaMDA Pre-Training
With the objectives and metrics defined, we describe LaMDA’s two-stage training: pre-training and fine-tuning. In the pre-training stage, we first created a dataset of 1.56T words — nearly 40 times more words than what were used to train previous dialog models — from public dialog data and other public web documents. After tokenizing the dataset into 2.81T SentencePiece tokens, we pre-train the model using GSPMD to predict every next token in a sentence, given the previous tokens. The pre-trained LaMDA model has also been widely used for natural language processing research across Google, including program synthesis, zero-shot learning, style transfer, as well as in the BIG-bench workshop.

LaMDA Fine-Tuning
In the fine-tuning stage, we train LaMDA to perform a mix of generative tasks to generate natural-language responses to given contexts, and classification tasks on whether a response is safe and high-quality, resulting in a single multi-task model that can do both. The LaMDA generator is trained to predict the next token on a dialog dataset restricted to back-and-forth dialog between two authors, while the LaMDA classifiers are trained to predict the Safety and Quality (SSI) ratings for the response in context using annotated data. During a dialog, the LaMDA generator first generates several candidate responses given the current multi-turn dialog context, and the LaMDA classifiers predict the SSI and Safety scores for every response candidate. Candidate responses with low Safety scores are first filtered out. Remaining candidates are re-ranked by their SSI scores, and the top result is selected as the response. We further filter the training data used for the generation task with LaMDA classifiers to increase the density of high-quality response candidates.

LaMDA generates and then scores a response candidate.
LaMDA handles arbitrary user input in a way that is sensible, specific, and interesting. Only LaMDA’s very first statement “Hello, I’m a friendly...” was hard coded to set the purpose of the dialog.

Factual Grounding
While people are capable of checking their facts by using tools and referencing established knowledge bases, many language models draw their knowledge on their internal model parameters only. To improve the groundedness of LaMDA’s original response, we collect a dataset of dialogs between people and LaMDA, which are annotated with information retrieval queries and the retrieved results where applicable. We then fine-tune LaMDA’s generator and classifier on this dataset to learn to call an external information retrieval system during its interaction with the user to improve the groundedness of its responses. While this is very early work, we’re seeing promising results.

Zero-shot domain adaptation: cherry-picked, but real example of LaMDA pretending to be Mount Everest, by simply setting its initial message to be “Hi I’m Mount Everest. What would you like me to know about me?” Everest LaMDA is shown providing educational and factually correct responses.

In order to quantify progress against our key metrics, we collect responses from the pre-trained model, fine-tuned model, and human raters (i.e., human-generated responses) to multi-turn two-author dialogs, and then ask a different set of human raters a series of questions to evaluate these responses against the Quality, Safety, and Groundedness metrics.

We observe that LaMDA significantly outperforms the pre-trained model in every dimension and across all model sizes. Quality metrics (Sensibleness, Specificity, and Interestingness, in the first column below) generally improve with the number of model parameters, with or without fine-tuning. Safety does not seem to benefit from model scaling alone, but it does improve with fine-tuning. Groundedness improves as model size increases, perhaps because larger models have a greater capacity to memorize uncommon knowledge, but fine-tuning allows the model to access external knowledge sources and effectively shift some of the load of remembering knowledge to an external knowledge source. With fine-tuning, the quality gap to human levels can be narrowed, though the model’s performance remains below human levels in safety and groundedness.

Comparing the pre-trained model (PT), fine-tuned model (LaMDA) and human-rater-generated dialogs (Human) across Sensibleness, Specificity, Interestingness, Safety, Groundedness, and Informativeness. The test sets used to measure Safety and Groundedness were designed to be especially difficult.

Future Research & Challenges
LaMDA’s level of Sensibleness, Specificity and Interestingness unlocks new avenues for understanding the benefits and risks of open-ended dialog agents. It also presents encouraging evidence that key challenges with neural language models, such as using a safety metric and improving groundedness, can improve with larger models and fine-tuning with more well-labeled data. However, this is very early work, and there are significant limitations. Exploring new ways to improve our Safety metric and LaMDA's groundedness, aligned with our AI Principles, will continue to be our main areas of focus going forward.

We'd to like to thank everyone for contributing to the project and paper, including: Blaise Aguera-Arcas, Javier Alberca, Thushan Amarasiriwardena, Lora Aroyo, Martin Baeuml, Leslie Baker, Rachel Bernstein, Taylor Bos, Maarten Bosma, Jonas Bragagnolo, Alena Butryna, Bill Byrne, Chung-Ching Chang, Zhifeng Chen, Dehao Chen, Heng-Tze Cheng, Ed Chi, Aaron Cohen, Eli Collins, Marian Croak, Claire Cui, Andrew Dai, Dipanjan Das, Daniel De Freitas, Jeff Dean, Rajat Dewan, Mark Diaz, Tulsee Doshi, Yu Du, Toju Duke, Doug Eck, Joe Fenton, Noah Fiedel, Christian Frueh, Harish Ganapathy, Saravanan Ganesh, Amin Ghafouri, Zoubin Ghahramani, Kourosh Gharachorloo, Jamie Hall, Erin Hoffman-John, Sissie Hsiao, Yanping Huang, Ben Hutchinson, Daphne Ippolito, Alicia Jin, Thomas Jurdi, Ashwin Kakarla, Nand Kishore, Maxim Krikun, Karthik Krishnamoorthi, Igor Krivokon, Apoorv Kulshreshtha, Ray Kurzweil, Viktoriya Kuzmina, Vivek Kwatra, Matthew Lamm, Quoc Le, Max Lee, Katherine Lee, Hongrae Lee, Josh Lee, Dmitry Lepikhin, YaGuang Li, Yifeng Lu, David Luan, Daphne Luong, Laichee Man, Jianchang (JC) Mao, Yossi Matias, Kathleen Meier-Hellstern, Marcelo Menegali, Muqthar Mohammad,, Muqthar Mohammad, Alejandra Molina, Erica Moreira, Meredith Ringel Morris, Maysam Moussalem, Jiaqi Mu, Tyler Mullen, Tyler Mullen, Eric Ni, Kristen Olson, Alexander Passos, Fernando Pereira, Slav Petrov, Marc Pickett, Roberto Pieraccini, Christian Plagemann, Sahitya Potluri, Vinodkumar Prabhakaran, Andy Pratt, James Qin, Ravi Rajakumar, Adam Roberts, Will Rusch, Renelito Delos Santos, Noam Shazeer, RJ Skerry-Ryan, Grigori Somin, Johnny Soraker, Pranesh Srinivasan, Amarnag Subramanya, Mustafa Suleyman, Romal Thoppilan, Song Wang, Sheng Wang, Chris Wassman, Yuanzhong Xu, Yuanzhong Xu, Ni Yan, Ben Zevenbergen, Vincent Zhao, Huaixiu Steven Zheng, Denny Zhou, Hao Zhou, Yanqi Zhou, and more.

Source: Google AI Blog

Evaluating Syntactic Abilities of Language Models

In recent years, pre-trained language models, such as BERT and GPT-3, have seen widespread use in natural language processing (NLP). By training on large volumes of text, language models acquire broad knowledge about the world, achieving strong performance on various NLP benchmarks. These models, however, are often opaque in that it may not be clear why they perform so well, which limits further hypothesis-driven improvement of the models. Hence, a new line of scientific inquiry has arisen: what linguistic knowledge is contained in these models?

While there are many types of linguistic knowledge that one may want to investigate, a topic that provides a strong basis for analysis is the subject–verb agreement grammar rule in English, which requires that the grammatical number of a verb agree with that of the subject. For example, the sentence “The dogs run.” is grammatical because “dogs” and “run” are both plural, but “The dogs runs.” is ungrammatical because “runs” is a singular verb.

One framework for assessing the linguistic knowledge of a language model is targeted syntactic evaluation (TSE), in which minimally different pairs of sentences, one grammatical and one ungrammatical, are shown to a model, and the model must determine which one is grammatical. TSE can be used to test knowledge of the English subject–verb agreement rule by having the model judge between two versions of the same sentence: one where a particular verb is written in its singular form, and the other in which the verb is written in its plural form.

With the above context, in “Frequency Effects on Syntactic Rule-Learning in Transformers”, published at EMNLP 2021, we investigated how a BERT model’s ability to correctly apply the English subject–verb agreement rule is affected by the number of times the words are seen by the model during pre-training. To test specific conditions, we pre-trained BERT models from scratch using carefully controlled datasets. We found that BERT achieves good performance on subject–verb pairs that do not appear together in the pre-training data, which indicates that it does learn to apply subject–verb agreement. However, the model tends to predict the incorrect form when it is much more frequent than the correct form, indicating that BERT does not treat grammatical agreement as a rule that must be followed. These results help us to better understand the strengths and limitations of pre-trained language models.

Prior Work
Previous work used TSE to measure English subject–verb agreement ability in a BERT model. In this setup, BERT performs a fill-in-the-blank task (e.g., “the dog _ across the park”) by assigning probabilities to both the singular and plural forms of a given verb (e.g., “runs” and “run”). If the model has correctly learned to apply the subject–verb agreement rule, then it should consistently assign higher probabilities to the verb forms that make the sentences grammatically correct.

This previous work evaluated BERT using both natural sentences (drawn from Wikipedia) and nonce sentences, which are artificially constructed to be grammatically valid but semantically nonsensical, such as Noam Chomsky’s famous example “colorless green ideas sleep furiously”. Nonce sentences are useful when testing syntactic abilities because the model cannot just fall back on superficial corpus statistics: for example, while “dogs run” is much more common than “dogs runs”, “dogs publish” and “dogs publishes” will both be very rare, so a model is not likely to have simply memorized the fact that one of them is more likely than the other.

BERT achieves an accuracy of more than 80% on nonce sentences (far better than the random-chance baseline of 50%), which was taken as evidence that the model had learned to apply the subject–verb agreement rule. In our paper, we went beyond this previous work by pre-training BERT models under specific data conditions, allowing us to dig deeper into these results to see how certain patterns in the pre-training data affect performance.

Unseen Subject–Verb Pairs
We first looked at how well the model performs on subject–verb pairs that were seen during pre-training, versus examples in which the subject and verb were never seen together in the same sentence:

BERT’s error rate on natural and nonce evaluation sentences, stratified by whether a particular subject–verb (SV) pair was seen in the same sentence during training or not. BERT’s performance on unseen SV pairs is far better than simple heuristics such as picking the more frequent verb or picking the more frequent SV pair.

BERT’s error rate increases slightly for unseen subject–verb (SV) pairs, for both natural and nonce evaluation sentences, but it is still much better than naïve heuristics, such as picking the verb form that occurred more often in the pre-training data or picking the verb form that occurred more frequently with the subject noun. This tells us that BERT is not just reflecting back the things that it sees during pre-training: making decisions based on more than just raw frequencies and generalizing to novel subject–verb pairs are indications that the model has learned to apply some underlying rule concerning subject–verb agreement.

Frequency of Verbs
Next, we went beyond just seen versus unseen, and examined how the frequency of a word affects BERT’s ability to use it correctly with the subject–verb agreement rule. For this study, we chose a set of 60 verbs, and then created several versions of the pre-training data, each engineered to contain the 60 verbs at a specific frequency, ensuring that the singular and plural forms appeared the same number of times. We then trained BERT models from these different datasets and evaluated them on the subject–verb agreement task:

BERT’s ability to follow the subject–verb agreement rule depends on the frequency of verbs in the training set.

These results indicate that although BERT is able to model the subject–verb agreement rule, it needs to see a verb about 100 times before it can reliably use it with the rule.

Relative Frequency Between Verb Forms
Finally, we wanted to understand how the relative frequencies of the singular and plural forms of a verb affect BERT’s predictions. For example, if one form of the verb (e.g., “combat”) appeared in the pre-training data much more frequently than the other verb form (e.g., “combats”), then BERT might be more likely to assign a high probability to the more frequent form, even when it is grammatically incorrect. To evaluate this, we again used the same 60 verbs, but this time we created manipulated versions of the pre-training data where the frequency ratio between verb forms varied from 1:1 to 100:1. The figure below shows BERT’s performance for these varying levels of frequency imbalance:

As the frequency ratio between verb forms in training data becomes more imbalanced, BERT’s ability to use those verbs grammatically decreases.

These results show that BERT achieves good accuracy at predicting the correct verb form when the two forms are seen the same number of times during pre-training, but the results become worse as the imbalance between the frequencies increases. This implies that even though BERT has learned how to apply subject–verb agreement, it does not necessarily use it as a “rule”, instead preferring to predict high-frequency words regardless of whether they violate the subject–verb agreement constraint.

Using TSE to evaluate the performance of BERT reveals its linguistic abilities on syntactic tasks. Moreover, studying its syntactic ability in relation to how often words appear in the training dataset reveals the ways that BERT handles competing priorities — it knows that subjects and verbs should agree and that high frequency words are more likely, but doesn’t understand that agreement is a rule that must be followed and that the frequency is only a preference. We hope this work provides new insight into how language models reflect properties of the datasets on which they are trained.

It was a privilege to collaborate with Tal Linzen and Ellie Pavlick on this project.

Source: Google AI Blog

Grammar Correction as You Type, on Pixel 6

Despite the success and widespread adoption of smartphones, using them to compose longer pieces of text is still quite cumbersome. As one writes, grammatical errors can often creep into the text (especially undesirable in formal situations), and correcting these errors can be time consuming on a small display with limited controls.

To address some of these challenges, we are launching a grammar correction feature that is directly built into Gboard on Pixel 6 that works entirely on-device to preserve privacy, detecting and suggesting corrections for grammatical errors while the user is typing. Building such functionality required addressing a few key obstacles: memory size limitations, latency requirements, and handling partial sentences. Currently, the feature is capable of correcting English sentences (we plan to expand to more languages in the near future) and available on almost any app with Gboard1.

Gboard suggests how to correct an ungrammatical sentence as the user types.

Model Architecture
We trained a sequence-to-sequence neural network to take an input sentence (or a sentence prefix) and output the grammatically correct version — if the original text is already grammatically correct, the output of the model is identical to its input, indicating that no corrections are needed. The model uses a hybrid architecture that combines a Transformer encoder with an LSTM decoder, a combination that provides a good balance of quality and latency.

Overview of the grammatical error correction (GEC) model architecture.

Mobile devices are constrained by limited memory and computational power, which make it more difficult to build a high quality grammar checking system. There are a few techniques we use to build a small, efficient, and capable model.

  • Shared embedding: Because the input and output of the model are structurally similar (e.g., both are text in the same language), we share some of the model weights between the Transformer encoder and the LSTM decoder, which reduces the model file size considerably without unduly affecting accuracy.
  • Factorized embedding: The model splits a sentence into a sequence of predefined tokens. To achieve good quality, we find that it is important to use a large vocabulary of predefined tokens, however, this substantially increases the model size. A factorized embedding separates the size of the hidden layers from the size of the vocabulary embedding. This enables us to have a model with a large vocabulary without significantly increasing the number of total weights.
  • Quantization: To reduce the model size further, we perform post-training quantization, which allows us to store each 32-bit floating point weight using only 8-bits. While this means that each weight is stored with lower fidelity, nevertheless, we find that the quality of the model is not materially affected.

By employing these techniques, the resulting model takes up only 20MB of storage and performs inference on 60 input characters under 22ms on the Google Pixel 6 CPU.

Training the Model
In order to train the model, we needed training data in the form of <original, corrected> text pairs.

One possible approach to generating a small on-device model would be to use the same training data as a large cloud-based grammar model. While this data produces a reasonably high quality on-device model, we found that using a technique called hard distillation to generate training data that is better-matched to the on-device domain yields even better quality results.

Hard distillation works as follows: We first collected hundreds of millions of English sentences from across the public web. We then used the large cloud-based grammar model to generate grammar corrections for those sentences. This training dataset of <original, corrected> sentence pairs is then used to train a smaller on-device model that can correct full sentences. We found that the on-device model built from this training dataset produces significantly higher quality suggestions than a similar-sized on-device model built on the original data used to train the cloud-based model.

Before training the model from this data, however, there is another issue to address. To enable the model to correct grammar as the user types (an important capability of mobile devices) it needs to be able to handle sentence prefixes. While this enables grammar correction when the user has only typed part of a sentence, this capability is particularly useful in messaging apps, where the user often omits the final period in a sentence and presses the send button as soon as they finish typing. If grammar correction is only triggered on complete sentences, it might miss many errors.

This raises the question of how to decide whether a given sentence prefix is grammatically correct. We used a heuristic to solve this — if a given sentence prefix can be completed to form a grammatically correct sentence, we then consider it grammatically correct. If not, it is assumed to be incorrect.

What the user has typed so far       Suggested grammar correction
She puts a lot
She puts a lot of
She puts a lot of effort
She puts a lot of effort yesterday   Replace "puts" with "put in".
GEC on incomplete sentences. There is no correction for valid sentence prefixes.

We created a second dataset suitable for training a large cloud-based model, but this time focusing on sentence prefixes. We generated the data using the aforementioned heuristic by taking the <original, corrected> sentence pairs from the cloud-based model’s training dataset and randomly sampling aligned prefixes from them.

For example, given the <original, corrected> sentence pair:

Original sentence: She puts a lot of effort yesterday afternoon.
Corrected sentence: She put in a lot of effort yesterday afternoon.

We might sample the following prefix pairs:

Original prefix: She puts
Corrected prefix: She put in

Original prefix: She puts a lot of effort yesterday
Corrected prefix: She put in a lot of effort yesterday

We then autocompleted each original prefix to a full sentence using a neural language model (similar in spirit to that used by SmartCompose). If a full-sentence grammar model finds no errors in the full sentence, then that means there is at least one possible way to complete this original prefix without making any grammatical errors, so we consider the original prefix to be correct and output <original prefix, original prefix> as a training example. Otherwise, we output <original prefix, corrected prefix>. We used this training data to train a large cloud-based model that can correct sentence prefixes, then used that model for hard distillation, generating new <original, corrected> sentence prefix pairs that are better-matched to the on-device domain.

Finally, we constructed the final training data for the on-device model by combining these new sentence prefix pairs with the full sentence pairs. The on-device model trained on this combined data is then capable of correcting both full sentences as well as sentence prefixes.

Training data for the on-device model is generated from cloud-based models.

Grammar Correction On-Device
Gboard sends a request to the on-device grammar model whenever the user has typed more than three words, whether the sentence is completed or not. To provide a quality user experience, we underline the grammar mistakes and provide replacement suggestions when the user interacts with them. However, the model outputs only corrected sentences, so those need to be transformed into replacement suggestions. To do this, we align the original sentence and the corrected sentence by minimizing the Levenshtein distance (i.e., the number of edits that are needed to transform the original sentence to the corrected sentence).

Extracting edits by aligning the corrected sentence to the original sentence.

Finally, we transform the insertion edits and deletion edits to be replacement edits. In the above example, we transform the suggested insertion of "in" to be an edit that suggests replacing "puts" with "put in". And we similarly suggest replacing “effort on” with “effort”.

We have built a small high-quality grammar correction model by designing a compact model architecture and leveraging a cloud-based grammar system during training via hard distillation. This compact model enables users to correct their text entirely on their own device without ever needing to send their keystrokes to a remote server.

We gratefully acknowledge the key contributions of the other team members, including Abhanshu Sharma, Akshay Kannan, Bharath Mankalale, Chenxi Ni, Felix Stahlberg, Florian Hartmann, Jacek Jurewicz, Jayakumar Hoskere, Jenny Chin, Kohsuke Yatoh, Lukas Zilka, Martin Sundermeyer, Matt Sharifi, Max Gubin, Nick Pezzotti, Nithi Gupta, Olivia Graham, Qi Wang, Sam Jaffee, Sebastian Millius, Shankar Kumar, Sina Hassani, Vishal Kumawat, and Yuanbo Zhang, Yunpeng Li, Yuxin Dai. We would also like to thank Xu Liu and David Petrou for their support.

1The feature will eventually be available in all apps with Gboard, but is currently unavailable for those in WebView

Source: Google AI Blog

Two New Datasets for Conversational NLP: TimeDial and Disfl-QA

A key challenge in natural language processing (NLP) is building conversational agents that can understand and reason about different language phenomena that are unique to realistic speech. For example, because people do not always premeditate exactly what they are going to say, a natural conversation often includes interruptions to speech, called disfluencies. Such disfluencies can be simple (like interjections, repetitions, restarts, or corrections), which simply break the continuity of a sentence, or more complex semantic disfluencies, in which the underlying meaning of a phrase changes. In addition, understanding a conversation also often requires knowledge of temporal relationships, like whether an event precedes or follows another. However, conversational agents built on today’s NLP models often struggle when confronted with temporal relationships or with disfluencies, and progress on improving their performance has been slow. This is due, in part, to a lack of datasets that involve such interesting conversational and speech phenomena.

To stir interest in this direction within the research community, we are excited to introduce TimeDial, for temporal commonsense reasoning in dialog, and Disfl-QA, which focuses on contextual disfluencies. TimeDial presents a new multiple choice span filling task targeted for temporal understanding, with an annotated test set of over ~1.1k dialogs. Disfl-QA is the first dataset containing contextual disfluencies in an information seeking setting, namely question answering over Wikipedia passages, with ~12k human annotated disfluent questions. These benchmark datasets are the first of their kind and show a significant gap between human performance and current state of the art NLP models.

While people can effortlessly reason about everyday temporal concepts, such as duration, frequency, or relative ordering of events in a dialog, such tasks can be challenging for conversational agents. For example, current NLP models often make a poor selection when tasked with filling in a blank (as shown below) that assumes a basic level of world knowledge for reasoning, or that requires understanding explicit and implicit inter-dependencies between temporal concepts across conversational turns.

It is easy for a person to judge that “half past one” and “quarter to two” are more plausible options to fill in the blank than “half past three” and “half past nine”. However, performing such temporal reasoning in the context of a dialog is not trivial for NLP models, as it requires appealing to world knowledge (i.e., knowing that the participants are not yet late for the meeting) and understanding the temporal relationship between events (“half past one” is before “three o’clock”, while “half past three” is after it). Indeed, current state-of-the-art models like T5 and BERT end up picking the wrong answers — “half past three” (T5) and “half past nine” (BERT).

The TimeDial benchmark dataset (derived from the DailyDialog multi-turn dialog corpus) measures models’ temporal commonsense reasoning abilities within a dialog context. Each of the ~1.5k dialogs in the dataset is presented in a multiple choice setup, in which one temporal span is masked out and the model is asked to find all correct answers from a list of four options to fill in the blank.

In our experiments we found that while people can easily answer these multiple choice questions (at 97.8% accuracy), state-of-the-art pre-trained language models still struggle on this challenge set. We experiment across three different modeling paradigms: (i) classification over the provided 4 options using BERT, (ii) mask filling for the masked span in the dialog using BERT-MLM, (iii) generative methods using T5. We observe that all the models struggle on this challenge set, with the best variant only scoring 73%.

Model   2-best Accuracy
Human   97.8%
BERT - Classification   50.0%
BERT - Mask Filling   68.5%
T5 - Generation   73.0%

Qualitative error analyses show that the pre-trained language models often rely on shallow, spurious features (particularly text matching), instead of truly doing reasoning over the context. It is likely that building NLP models capable of performing the kind of temporal commonsense reasoning needed for TimeDial requires rethinking how temporal objects are represented within general text representations.

As disfluency is inherently a speech phenomenon, it is most commonly found in text output from speech recognition systems. Understanding such disfluent text is key to building conversational agents that understand human speech. Unfortunately, research in the NLP and speech community has been impeded by the lack of curated datasets containing such disfluencies, and the datasets that are available, like Switchboard, are limited in scale and complexity. As a result, it’s difficult to stress test NLP models in the presence of disfluencies.

Disfluency   Example
Interjection   When is, uh, Easter this year?
Repetition   When is EasEaster this year?
Correction   When is Lent, I mean Easter, this year?
Restart   How much, no wait, when is Easter this year?
Different kinds of disfluencies. The reparandum (words intended to be corrected or ignored; in red), interregnum (optional discourse cues; in grey) and repair (the corrected words; in blue).

Disfl-QA is the first dataset containing contextual disfluencies in an information seeking setting, namely question answering over Wikipedia passages from SQuAD. Disfl-QA is a targeted dataset for disfluencies, in which all questions (~12k) contain disfluencies, making for a much larger disfluent test set than prior datasets. Over 90% of the disfluencies in Disfl-QA are corrections or restarts, making it a much more difficult test set for disfluency correction. In addition, compared to earlier disfluency datasets, it contains a wider variety of semantic distractors, i.e., distractors that carry semantic meaning as opposed to simpler speech disfluencies. 

Passage: …The Normans (Norman: Nourmands; French: Normands; Latin: Normanni) were the people who in the 10th and 11th centuries gave their name to Normandy, a region in France. They were descended from Norse ("Norman" comes from "Norseman") raiders and pirates from Denmark, Iceland and Norway who, under their leader Rollo, …
Q1:   In what country is Normandy located? France ✓
DQ1:   In what country is Norse found no wait Normandy not Norse? Denmark X
Q2:   When were the Normans in Normandy? 10th and 11th centuries ✓
DQ2:   From which countries no tell me when were the Normans in Normandy? Denmark, Iceland and Norway X
A passage and questions (Qi) from SQuAD dataset, along with their disfluent versions (DQi), consisting of semantic distractors (like “Norse” and “from which countries”) and predictions from a T5 model.

Here, the first question (Q1) is seeking an answer about the location of Normandy. In the disfluent version (DQ1) Norse is mentioned before the question is corrected. The presence of this correctional disfluency confuses the QA model, which tends to rely on shallow textual cues from the question for making predictions.

Disfl-QA also includes newer phenomena, such as coreference (expression referring to the same entity) between the reparandum and the repair.

SQuAD  Disfl-QA
Who does BSkyB have an operating license from?  Who removed [BSkyB’s] operating license, no scratch that, who do [they] have [their] operating license from?

Experiments show that the performance of existing state-of-the-art language model–based question answering systems degrades significantly when tested on Disfl-QA and heuristic disfluencies (presented in the paper) in a zero-shot setting.

Dataset   F1
SQuAD   89.59
Heuristics   65.27 (-24.32)
Disfl-QA   61.64 (-27.95)

We show that data augmentation methods partially recover the loss in performance and also demonstrate the efficacy of using human-annotated training data for fine-tuning. We argue that researchers need large-scale disfluency datasets in order for NLP models to be robust to disfluencies.

Understanding language phenomena that are unique to human speech, like disfluencies and temporal reasoning, among others, is a key ingredient for enabling more natural human–machine communication in the near future. With TimeDial and Disfl-QA, we aim to fill a major research gap by providing these datasets as testbeds for NLP models, in order to evaluate their robustness to ubiquitous phenomena across different tasks. It is our hope that the broader NLP community will devise generalized few-shot or zero-shot approaches to effectively handle these phenomena, without requiring task-specific human-annotated training datasets, constructed specifically for these challenges.

The TimeDial work has been a team effort involving Lianhui Qi, Luheng He, Yenjin Choi, Manaal Faruqui and the authors. The Disfl-QA work has been a collaboration involving Jiacheng Xu, Diyi Yang, Manaal Faruqui.

Source: Google AI Blog