Most interpretability research in NLP focuses on understanding the behavior and features of a fully trained model. However, certain insights into model behavior may only be accessible by observing the trajectory of the training process. We present a case study of syntax acquisition in masked language models (MLMs) that demonstrates how analyzing the evolution of interpretable artifacts throughout training deepens our understanding of emergent behavior. In particular, we study Syntactic Attention Structure (SAS), a naturally emerging property of MLMs wherein specific Transformer heads tend to focus on specific syntactic relations. We identify a brief window in pretraining when models abruptly acquire SAS, concurrent with a steep drop in loss. This breakthrough precipitates the subsequent acquisition of linguistic capabilities. We then examine the causal role of SAS by manipulating SAS during training, and demonstrate that SAS is necessary for the development of grammatical capabilities. We further find that SAS competes with other beneficial traits during training, and that briefly suppressing SAS improves model quality. These findings offer an interpretation of a real-world example of both simplicity bias and breakthrough training dynamics.
The impact of randomness on model training is poorly understood. How do differences in data order and initialization actually manifest in the model, such that some training runs outperform others or converge faster? Furthermore, how can we interpret the resulting training dynamics and the phase transitions that characterize different trajectories? To understand the effect of randomness on the dynamics and outcomes of neural network training, we train models multiple times with different random seeds and compute a variety of metrics throughout training, such as the $L_2$ norm, mean, and variance of the neural network's weights. We then fit a hidden Markov model (HMM) over the resulting sequences of metrics. The HMM represents training as a stochastic process of transitions between latent states, providing an intuitive overview of significant changes during training. Using our method, we produce a low-dimensional, discrete representation of training dynamics on grokking tasks, image classification, and masked language modeling. We use the HMM representation to study phase transitions and identify latent "detour" states that slow down convergence.
Large language models (LLMs) have achieved widespread success on a variety of in-context few-shot tasks, but this success is typically evaluated via correctness rather than consistency. We argue that self-consistency is an important criteria for valid multi-step reasoning and propose two types of self-consistency that are particularly important for multi-step logic -- hypothetical consistency (the ability for a model to predict what its output would be in a hypothetical other context) and compositional consistency (consistency of a model's outputs for a compositional task even when an intermediate step is replaced with the model's output for that step). We demonstrate that four sizes of the GPT-3 model exhibit poor consistency rates across both types of consistency on four different tasks (Wikipedia, DailyDialog, arithmetic, and GeoQuery).
Pretrained language models often generate outputs that are not in line with human preferences, such as harmful text or factually incorrect summaries. Recent work approaches the above issues by learning from a simple form of human feedback: comparisons between pairs of model-generated outputs. However, comparison feedback only conveys limited information about human preferences. In this paper, we introduce Imitation learning from Language Feedback (ILF), a new approach that utilizes more informative language feedback. ILF consists of three steps that are applied iteratively: first, conditioning the language model on the input, an initial LM output, and feedback to generate refinements. Second, selecting the refinement incorporating the most feedback. Third, finetuning the language model to maximize the likelihood of the chosen refinement given the input. We show theoretically that ILF can be viewed as Bayesian Inference, similar to Reinforcement Learning from human feedback. We evaluate ILF's effectiveness on a carefully-controlled toy task and a realistic summarization task. Our experiments demonstrate that large language models accurately incorporate feedback and that finetuning with ILF scales well with the dataset size, even outperforming finetuning on human summaries. Learning from both language and comparison feedback outperforms learning from each alone, achieving human-level summarization performance.
The potential for pre-trained large language models (LLMs) to use natural language feedback at inference time has been an exciting recent development. We build upon this observation by formalizing an algorithm for learning from natural language feedback at training time instead, which we call Imitation learning from Language Feedback (ILF). ILF requires only a small amount of human-written feedback during training and does not require the same feedback at test time, making it both user-friendly and sample-efficient. We further show that ILF can be seen as a form of minimizing the KL divergence to the ground truth distribution and demonstrate a proof-of-concept on a neural program synthesis task. We use ILF to improve a Codegen-Mono 6.1B model's pass@1 rate by 38% relative (and 10% absolute) on the Mostly Basic Python Problems (MBPP) benchmark, outperforming both fine-tuning on MBPP and fine-tuning on repaired programs written by humans. Overall, our results suggest that learning from human-written natural language feedback is both more effective and sample-efficient than training exclusively on demonstrations for improving an LLM's performance on code generation tasks.
Given the recent impressive accomplishments of language models (LMs) for code generation, we explore the use of LMs as adaptive mutation and crossover operators for an evolutionary neural architecture search (NAS) algorithm. While NAS still proves too difficult a task for LMs to succeed at solely through prompting, we find that the combination of evolutionary prompt engineering with soft prompt-tuning, a method we term EvoPrompting, consistently finds diverse and high performing models. We first demonstrate that EvoPrompting is effective on the computationally efficient MNIST-1D dataset, where EvoPrompting produces convolutional architecture variants that outperform both those designed by human experts and naive few-shot prompting in terms of accuracy and model size. We then apply our method to searching for graph neural networks on the CLRS Algorithmic Reasoning Benchmark, where EvoPrompting is able to design novel architectures that outperform current state-of-the-art models on 21 out of 30 algorithmic reasoning tasks while maintaining similar model size. EvoPrompting is successful at designing accurate and efficient neural network architectures across a variety of machine learning tasks, while also being general enough for easy adaptation to other tasks beyond neural network design.
Language models (LMs) are pretrained to imitate internet text, including content that would violate human preferences if generated by an LM: falsehoods, offensive comments, personally identifiable information, low-quality or buggy code, and more. Here, we explore alternative objectives for pretraining LMs in a way that also guides them to generate text aligned with human preferences. We benchmark five objectives for pretraining with human feedback across three tasks and study how they affect the trade-off between alignment and capabilities of pretrained LMs. We find a Pareto-optimal and simple approach among those we explored: conditional training, or learning distribution over tokens conditional on their human preference scores given by a reward model. Conditional training reduces the rate of undesirable content by up to an order of magnitude, both when generating without a prompt and with an adversarially-chosen prompt. Moreover, conditional training maintains the downstream task performance of standard LM pretraining, both before and after task-specific finetuning. Pretraining with human feedback results in much better preference satisfaction than standard LM pretraining followed by finetuning with feedback, i.e., learning and then unlearning undesirable behavior. Our results suggest that we should move beyond imitation learning when pretraining LMs and incorporate human preferences from the start of training.
We present the results of the NLP Community Metasurvey. Run from May to June 2022, the survey elicited opinions on controversial issues, including industry influence in the field, concerns about AGI, and ethics. Our results put concrete numbers to several controversies: For example, respondents are split almost exactly in half on questions about the importance of artificial general intelligence, whether language models understand language, and the necessity of linguistic structure and inductive bias for solving NLP problems. In addition, the survey posed meta-questions, asking respondents to predict the distribution of survey responses. This allows us not only to gain insight on the spectrum of beliefs held by NLP researchers, but also to uncover false sociological beliefs where the community's predictions don't match reality. We find such mismatches on a wide range of issues. Among other results, the community greatly overestimates its own belief in the usefulness of benchmarks and the potential for scaling to solve real-world problems, while underestimating its own belief in the importance of linguistic structure, inductive bias, and interdisciplinary science.