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Mayee F. Chen, Nicholas Roberts, Kush Bhatia, Jue Wang, Ce Zhang, Frederic Sala, Christopher Ré

The quality of training data impacts the performance of pre-trained large language models (LMs). Given a fixed budget of tokens, we study how to best select data that leads to good downstream model performance across tasks. We develop a new framework based on a simple hypothesis: just as humans acquire interdependent skills in a deliberate order, language models also follow a natural order when learning a set of skills from their training data. If such an order exists, it can be utilized for improved understanding of LMs and for data-efficient training. Using this intuition, our framework formalizes the notion of a skill and of an ordered set of skills in terms of the associated data. First, using both synthetic and real data, we demonstrate that these ordered skill sets exist, and that their existence enables more advanced skills to be learned with less data when we train on their prerequisite skills. Second, using our proposed framework, we introduce an online data sampling algorithm, Skill-It, over mixtures of skills for both continual pre-training and fine-tuning regimes, where the objective is to efficiently learn multiple skills in the former and an individual skill in the latter. On the LEGO synthetic in the continual pre-training setting, Skill-It obtains 36.5 points higher accuracy than random sampling. On the Natural Instructions dataset in the fine-tuning setting, Skill-It reduces the validation loss on the target skill by 13.6% versus training on data associated with the target skill itself. We apply our skills framework on the recent RedPajama dataset to continually pre-train a 3B-parameter LM, achieving higher accuracy on the LM Evaluation Harness with 1B tokens than the baseline approach of sampling uniformly over data sources with 3B tokens.

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Neel Guha, Mayee F. Chen, Kush Bhatia, Azalia Mirhoseini, Frederic Sala, Christopher Ré

Recent work has shown that language models' (LMs) prompt-based learning capabilities make them well suited for automating data labeling in domains where manual annotation is expensive. The challenge is that while writing an initial prompt is cheap, improving a prompt is costly -- practitioners often require significant labeled data in order to evaluate the impact of prompt modifications. Our work asks whether it is possible to improve prompt-based learning without additional labeled data. We approach this problem by attempting to modify the predictions of a prompt, rather than the prompt itself. Our intuition is that accurate predictions should also be consistent: samples which are similar under some feature representation should receive the same prompt prediction. We propose Embroid, a method which computes multiple representations of a dataset under different embedding functions, and uses the consistency between the LM predictions for neighboring samples to identify mispredictions. Embroid then uses these neighborhoods to create additional predictions for each sample, and combines these predictions with a simple latent variable graphical model in order to generate a final corrected prediction. In addition to providing a theoretical analysis of Embroid, we conduct a rigorous empirical evaluation across six different LMs and up to 95 different tasks. We find that (1) Embroid substantially improves performance over original prompts (e.g., by an average of 7.3 points on GPT-JT), (2) also realizes improvements for more sophisticated prompting strategies (e.g., chain-of-thought), and (3) can be specialized to domains like law through the embedding functions.

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Kush Bhatia, Avanika Narayan, Christopher De Sa, Christopher Ré

Large language models (LLMs) exhibit in-context learning abilities which enable the same model to perform several tasks without any task-specific training. In contrast, traditional adaptation approaches, such as fine-tuning, modify the underlying models for each specific task. In-context learning, however, consistently underperforms task-specific tuning approaches even when presented with the same examples. While most existing approaches (e.g., prompt engineering) focus on the LLM's learned representations to patch this performance gap, our analysis actually reveal that LLM representations contain sufficient information to make good predictions. As such, we focus on the LLM's reasoning abilities and demonstrate that this performance gap exists due to their inability to perform simple probabilistic reasoning tasks. This raises an intriguing question: Are LLMs actually capable of learning how to reason in a task-agnostic manner? We answer this in the affirmative and propose TART which generically improves an LLM's reasoning abilities using a synthetically trained Transformer-based reasoning module. TART trains this reasoning module in a task-agnostic manner using only synthetic logistic regression tasks and composes it with an arbitrary real-world pre-trained model without any additional training. With a single inference module, TART improves performance across different model families (GPT-Neo, Pythia, BLOOM), model sizes (100M - 6B), tasks (14 NLP binary classification tasks), and even across different modalities (audio and vision). Additionally, on the RAFT Benchmark, TART improves GPT-Neo (125M)'s performance such that it outperforms BLOOM (176B), and is within 4% of GPT-3 (175B). Our code and models are available at https://github.com/HazyResearch/TART .

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Kush Bhatia, Wenshuo Guo, Jacob Steinhardt

Specifying reward functions for complex tasks like object manipulation or driving is challenging to do by hand. Reward learning seeks to address this by learning a reward model using human feedback on selected query policies. This shifts the burden of reward specification to the optimal design of the queries. We propose a theoretical framework for studying reward learning and the associated optimal experiment design problem. Our framework models rewards and policies as nonparametric functions belonging to subsets of Reproducing Kernel Hilbert Spaces (RKHSs). The learner receives (noisy) oracle access to a true reward and must output a policy that performs well under the true reward. For this setting, we first derive non-asymptotic excess risk bounds for a simple plug-in estimator based on ridge regression. We then solve the query design problem by optimizing these risk bounds with respect to the choice of query set and obtain a finite sample statistical rate, which depends primarily on the eigenvalue spectrum of a certain linear operator on the RKHSs. Despite the generality of these results, our bounds are stronger than previous bounds developed for more specialized problems. We specifically show that the well-studied problem of Gaussian process (GP) bandit optimization is a special case of our framework, and that our bounds either improve or are competitive with known regret guarantees for the Mat\'ern kernel.

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Pranjal Awasthi, Kush Bhatia, Sreenivas Gollapudi, Kostas Kollias

For traffic routing platforms, the choice of which route to recommend to a user depends on the congestion on these routes -- indeed, an individual's utility depends on the number of people using the recommended route at that instance. Motivated by this, we introduce the problem of Congested Bandits where each arm's reward is allowed to depend on the number of times it was played in the past $\Delta$ timesteps. This dependence on past history of actions leads to a dynamical system where an algorithm's present choices also affect its future pay-offs, and requires an algorithm to plan for this. We study the congestion aware formulation in the multi-armed bandit (MAB) setup and in the contextual bandit setup with linear rewards. For the multi-armed setup, we propose a UCB style algorithm and show that its policy regret scales as $\tilde{O}(\sqrt{K \Delta T})$. For the linear contextual bandit setup, our algorithm, based on an iterative least squares planner, achieves policy regret $\tilde{O}(\sqrt{dT} + \Delta)$. From an experimental standpoint, we corroborate the no-regret properties of our algorithms via a simulation study.

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Joey Hong, Kush Bhatia, Anca Dragan

Inferring reward functions from human behavior is at the center of value alignment - aligning AI objectives with what we, humans, actually want. But doing so relies on models of how humans behave given their objectives. After decades of research in cognitive science, neuroscience, and behavioral economics, obtaining accurate human models remains an open research topic. This begs the question: how accurate do these models need to be in order for the reward inference to be accurate? On the one hand, if small errors in the model can lead to catastrophic error in inference, the entire framework of reward learning seems ill-fated, as we will never have perfect models of human behavior. On the other hand, if as our models improve, we can have a guarantee that reward accuracy also improves, this would show the benefit of more work on the modeling side. We study this question both theoretically and empirically. We do show that it is unfortunately possible to construct small adversarial biases in behavior that lead to arbitrarily large errors in the inferred reward. However, and arguably more importantly, we are also able to identify reasonable assumptions under which the reward inference error can be bounded linearly in the error in the human model. Finally, we verify our theoretical insights in discrete and continuous control tasks with simulated and human data.

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Simran Arora, Avanika Narayan, Mayee F. Chen, Laurel Orr, Neel Guha, Kush Bhatia, Ines Chami, Frederic Sala, Christopher Ré

Large language models (LLMs) transfer well to new tasks out-of-the-box simply given a natural language prompt that demonstrates how to perform the task and no additional training. Prompting is a brittle process wherein small modifications to the prompt can cause large variations in the model predictions, and therefore significant effort is dedicated towards designing a painstakingly "perfect prompt" for a task. To mitigate the high degree of effort involved in prompt-design, we instead ask whether producing multiple effective, yet imperfect, prompts and aggregating them can lead to a high quality prompting strategy. Our observations motivate our proposed prompting method, ASK ME ANYTHING (AMA). We first develop an understanding of the effective prompt formats, finding that question-answering (QA) prompts, which encourage open-ended generation ("Who went to the park?") tend to outperform those that restrict the model outputs ("John went to the park. Output True or False."). Our approach recursively uses the LLM itself to transform task inputs to the effective QA format. We apply the collected prompts to obtain several noisy votes for the input's true label. We find that the prompts can have very different accuracies and complex dependencies and thus propose to use weak supervision, a procedure for combining the noisy predictions, to produce the final predictions for the inputs. We evaluate AMA across open-source model families (e.g., EleutherAI, BLOOM, OPT, and T0) and model sizes (125M-175B parameters), demonstrating an average performance lift of 10.2% over the few-shot baseline. This simple strategy enables the open-source GPT-J-6B model to match and exceed the performance of few-shot GPT3-175B on 15 of 20 popular benchmarks. Averaged across these tasks, the GPT-Neo-6B model outperforms few-shot GPT3-175B. We release our code here: https://github.com/HazyResearch/ama_prompting

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Kush Bhatia, Nikki Lijing Kuang, Yi-An Ma, Yixin Wang

Variational inference has recently emerged as a popular alternative to the classical Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) in large-scale Bayesian inference. The core idea of variational inference is to trade statistical accuracy for computational efficiency. It aims to approximate the posterior, reducing computation costs but potentially compromising its statistical accuracy. In this work, we study this statistical and computational trade-off in variational inference via a case study in inferential model selection. Focusing on Gaussian inferential models (a.k.a. variational approximating families) with diagonal plus low-rank precision matrices, we initiate a theoretical study of the trade-offs in two aspects, Bayesian posterior inference error and frequentist uncertainty quantification error. From the Bayesian posterior inference perspective, we characterize the error of the variational posterior relative to the exact posterior. We prove that, given a fixed computation budget, a lower-rank inferential model produces variational posteriors with a higher statistical approximation error, but a lower computational error; it reduces variances in stochastic optimization and, in turn, accelerates convergence. From the frequentist uncertainty quantification perspective, we consider the precision matrix of the variational posterior as an uncertainty estimate. We find that, relative to the true asymptotic precision, the variational approximation suffers from an additional statistical error originating from the sampling uncertainty of the data. Moreover, this statistical error becomes the dominant factor as the computation budget increases. As a consequence, for small datasets, the inferential model need not be full-rank to achieve optimal estimation error. We finally demonstrate these statistical and computational trade-offs inference across empirical studies, corroborating the theoretical findings.

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Alexander Pan, Kush Bhatia, Jacob Steinhardt

Reward hacking -- where RL agents exploit gaps in misspecified reward functions -- has been widely observed, but not yet systematically studied. To understand how reward hacking arises, we construct four RL environments with misspecified rewards. We investigate reward hacking as a function of agent capabilities: model capacity, action space resolution, observation space noise, and training time. More capable agents often exploit reward misspecifications, achieving higher proxy reward and lower true reward than less capable agents. Moreover, we find instances of phase transitions: capability thresholds at which the agent's behavior qualitatively shifts, leading to a sharp decrease in the true reward. Such phase transitions pose challenges to monitoring the safety of ML systems. To address this, we propose an anomaly detection task for aberrant policies and offer several baseline detectors.

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