Knowledge and language understanding of models evaluated through question answering (QA) has been usually studied on static snapshots of knowledge, like Wikipedia. However, our world is dynamic, evolves over time, and our models' knowledge becomes outdated. To study how semi-parametric QA models and their underlying parametric language models (LMs) adapt to evolving knowledge, we construct a new large-scale dataset, StreamingQA, with human written and generated questions asked on a given date, to be answered from 14 years of time-stamped news articles. We evaluate our models quarterly as they read new articles not seen in pre-training. We show that parametric models can be updated without full retraining, while avoiding catastrophic forgetting. For semi-parametric models, adding new articles into the search space allows for rapid adaptation, however, models with an outdated underlying LM under-perform those with a retrained LM. For questions about higher-frequency named entities, parametric updates are particularly beneficial. In our dynamic world, the StreamingQA dataset enables a more realistic evaluation of QA models, and our experiments highlight several promising directions for future research.
Language modelling provides a step towards intelligent communication systems by harnessing large repositories of written human knowledge to better predict and understand the world. In this paper, we present an analysis of Transformer-based language model performance across a wide range of model scales -- from models with tens of millions of parameters up to a 280 billion parameter model called Gopher. These models are evaluated on 152 diverse tasks, achieving state-of-the-art performance across the majority. Gains from scale are largest in areas such as reading comprehension, fact-checking, and the identification of toxic language, but logical and mathematical reasoning see less benefit. We provide a holistic analysis of the training dataset and model's behaviour, covering the intersection of model scale with bias and toxicity. Finally we discuss the application of language models to AI safety and the mitigation of downstream harms.
Large language models have shown impressive performance on many natural language processing (NLP) tasks in a zero-shot setting. We ask whether these models exhibit commonsense understanding -- a critical component of NLP applications -- by evaluating models against four commonsense benchmarks. We find that the impressive zero-shot performance of large language models is mostly due to existence of dataset bias in our benchmarks. We also show that the zero-shot performance is sensitive to the choice of hyper-parameters and similarity of the benchmark to the pre-training datasets. Moreover, we did not observe substantial improvements when evaluating models in a few-shot setting. Finally, in contrast to previous work, we find that leveraging explicit commonsense knowledge does not yield substantial improvement.
We present a language model that combines a large parametric neural network (i.e., a transformer) with a non-parametric episodic memory component in an integrated architecture. Our model uses extended short-term context by caching local hidden states -- similar to transformer-XL -- and global long-term memory by retrieving a set of nearest neighbor tokens at each timestep. We design a gating function to adaptively combine multiple information sources to make a prediction. This mechanism allows the model to use either local context, short-term memory, or long-term memory (or any combination of them) on an ad hoc basis depending on the context. Experiments on word-based and character-based language modeling datasets demonstrate the efficacy of our proposed method compared to strong baselines.
* Accepted to TACL, pre MIT Press publication version
Our world is open-ended, non-stationary and constantly evolving; thus what we talk about and how we talk about it changes over time. This inherent dynamic nature of language comes in stark contrast to the current static language modelling paradigm, which constructs training and evaluation sets from overlapping time periods. Despite recent progress, we demonstrate that state-of-the-art Transformer models perform worse in the realistic setup of predicting future utterances from beyond their training period -- a consistent pattern across three datasets from two domains. We find that, while increasing model size alone -- a key driver behind recent progress -- does not provide a solution for the temporal generalization problem, having models that continually update their knowledge with new information can indeed slow down the degradation over time. Hence, given the compilation of ever-larger language modelling training datasets, combined with the growing list of language-model-based NLP applications that require up-to-date knowledge about the world, we argue that now is the right time to rethink our static language modelling evaluation protocol, and develop adaptive language models that can remain up-to-date with respect to our ever-changing and non-stationary world.
We show state-of-the-art word representation learning methods maximize an objective function that is a lower bound on the mutual information between different parts of a word sequence (i.e., a sentence). Our formulation provides an alternative perspective that unifies classical word embedding models (e.g., Skip-gram) and modern contextual embeddings (e.g., BERT, XLNet). In addition to enhancing our theoretical understanding of these methods, our derivation leads to a principled framework that can be used to construct new self-supervised tasks. We provide an example by drawing inspirations from related methods based on mutual information maximization that have been successful in computer vision, and introduce a simple self-supervised objective that maximizes the mutual information between a global sentence representation and n-grams in the sentence. Our analysis offers a holistic view of representation learning methods to transfer knowledge and translate progress across multiple domains (e.g., natural language processing, computer vision, audio processing).
We introduce a lifelong language learning setup where a model needs to learn from a stream of text examples without any dataset identifier. We propose an episodic memory model that performs sparse experience replay and local adaptation to mitigate catastrophic forgetting in this setup. Experiments on text classification and question answering demonstrate the complementary benefits of sparse experience replay and local adaptation to allow the model to continuously learn from new datasets. We also show that the space complexity of the episodic memory module can be reduced significantly (~50-90%) by randomly choosing which examples to store in memory with a minimal decrease in performance. We consider an episodic memory component as a crucial building block of general linguistic intelligence and see our model as a first step in that direction.
Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) enjoy great success at image generation, but have proven difficult to train in the domain of natural language. Challenges with gradient estimation, optimization instability, and mode collapse have lead practitioners to resort to maximum likelihood pre-training, followed by small amounts of adversarial fine-tuning. The benefits of GAN fine-tuning for language generation are unclear, as the resulting models produce comparable or worse samples than traditional language models. We show it is in fact possible to train a language GAN from scratch -- without maximum likelihood pre-training. We combine existing techniques such as large batch sizes, dense rewards and discriminator regularization to stabilize and improve language GANs. The resulting model, ScratchGAN, performs comparably to maximum likelihood training on EMNLP2017 News and WikiText-103 corpora according to quality and diversity metrics.
We define general linguistic intelligence as the ability to reuse previously acquired knowledge about a language's lexicon, syntax, semantics, and pragmatic conventions to adapt to new tasks quickly. Using this definition, we analyze state-of-the-art natural language understanding models and conduct an extensive empirical investigation to evaluate them against these criteria through a series of experiments that assess the task-independence of the knowledge being acquired by the learning process. In addition to task performance, we propose a new evaluation metric based on an online encoding of the test data that quantifies how quickly an existing agent (model) learns a new task. Our results show that while the field has made impressive progress in terms of model architectures that generalize to many tasks, these models still require a lot of in-domain training examples (e.g., for fine tuning, training task-specific modules), and are prone to catastrophic forgetting. Moreover, we find that far from solving general tasks (e.g., document question answering), our models are overfitting to the quirks of particular datasets (e.g., SQuAD). We discuss missing components and conjecture on how to make progress toward general linguistic intelligence.