The choice of hyperparameters greatly impacts performance in natural language processing. Often, it is hard to tell if a method is better than another or just better tuned. Tuning curves fix this ambiguity by accounting for tuning effort. Specifically, they plot validation performance as a function of the number of hyperparameter choices tried so far. While several estimators exist for these curves, it is common to use point estimates, which we show fail silently and give contradictory results when given too little data. Beyond point estimates, confidence bands are necessary to rigorously establish the relationship between different approaches. We present the first method to construct valid confidence bands for tuning curves. The bands are exact, simultaneous, and distribution-free, thus they provide a robust basis for comparing methods. Empirical analysis shows that while bootstrap confidence bands, which serve as a baseline, fail to approximate their target confidence, ours achieve it exactly. We validate our design with ablations, analyze the effect of sample size, and provide guidance on comparing models with our method. To promote confident comparisons in future work, we release a library implementing the method at https://github.com/nalourie/opda .
Many NLP researchers are experiencing an existential crisis triggered by the astonishing success of ChatGPT and other systems based on large language models (LLMs). After such a disruptive change to our understanding of the field, what is left to do? Taking a historical lens, we look for guidance from the first era of LLMs, which began in 2005 with large $n$-gram models for machine translation. We identify durable lessons from the first era, and more importantly, we identify evergreen problems where NLP researchers can continue to make meaningful contributions in areas where LLMs are ascendant. Among these lessons, we discuss the primacy of hardware advancement in shaping the availability and importance of scale, as well as the urgent challenge of quality evaluation, both automated and human. We argue that disparities in scale are transient and that researchers can work to reduce them; that data, rather than hardware, is still a bottleneck for many meaningful applications; that meaningful evaluation informed by actual use is still an open problem; and that there is still room for speculative approaches.
We present AstroCLIP, a strategy to facilitate the construction of astronomical foundation models that bridge the gap between diverse observational modalities. We demonstrate that a cross-modal contrastive learning approach between images and optical spectra of galaxies yields highly informative embeddings of both modalities. In particular, we apply our method on multi-band images and optical spectra from the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), and show that: (1) these embeddings are well-aligned between modalities and can be used for accurate cross-modal searches, and (2) these embeddings encode valuable physical information about the galaxies -- in particular redshift and stellar mass -- that can be used to achieve competitive zero- and few- shot predictions without further finetuning. Additionally, in the process of developing our approach, we also construct a novel, transformer-based model and pretraining approach for processing galaxy spectra.
We introduce multiple physics pretraining (MPP), an autoregressive task-agnostic pretraining approach for physical surrogate modeling. MPP involves training large surrogate models to predict the dynamics of multiple heterogeneous physical systems simultaneously by learning features that are broadly useful across diverse physical tasks. In order to learn effectively in this setting, we introduce a shared embedding and normalization strategy that projects the fields of multiple systems into a single shared embedding space. We validate the efficacy of our approach on both pretraining and downstream tasks over a broad fluid mechanics-oriented benchmark. We show that a single MPP-pretrained transformer is able to match or outperform task-specific baselines on all pretraining sub-tasks without the need for finetuning. For downstream tasks, we demonstrate that finetuning MPP-trained models results in more accurate predictions across multiple time-steps on new physics compared to training from scratch or finetuning pretrained video foundation models. We open-source our code and model weights trained at multiple scales for reproducibility and community experimentation.
Large Language Models have not yet been broadly adapted for the analysis of scientific datasets due in part to the unique difficulties of tokenizing numbers. We propose xVal, a numerical encoding scheme that represents any real number using just a single token. xVal represents a given real number by scaling a dedicated embedding vector by the number value. Combined with a modified number-inference approach, this strategy renders the model end-to-end continuous when considered as a map from the numbers of the input string to those of the output string. This leads to an inductive bias that is generally more suitable for applications in scientific domains. We empirically evaluate our proposal on a number of synthetic and real-world datasets. Compared with existing number encoding schemes, we find that xVal is more token-efficient and demonstrates improved generalization.
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.
Biological sequence analysis relies on the ability to denoise the imprecise output of sequencing platforms. We consider a common setting where a short sequence is read out repeatedly using a high-throughput long-read platform to generate multiple subreads, or noisy observations of the same sequence. Denoising these subreads with alignment-based approaches often fails when too few subreads are available or error rates are too high. In this paper, we propose a novel method for blindly denoising sets of sequences without directly observing clean source sequence labels. Our method, Self-Supervised Set Learning (SSSL), gathers subreads together in an embedding space and estimates a single set embedding as the midpoint of the subreads in both the latent and sequence spaces. This set embedding represents the "average" of the subreads and can be decoded into a prediction of the clean sequence. In experiments on simulated long-read DNA data, SSSL methods denoise small reads of $\leq 6$ subreads with 17% fewer errors and large reads of $>6$ subreads with 8% fewer errors compared to the best baseline. On a real dataset of antibody sequences, SSSL improves over baselines on two self-supervised metrics, with a significant improvement on difficult small reads that comprise over 60% of the test set. By accurately denoising these reads, SSSL promises to better realize the potential of high-throughput DNA sequencing data for downstream scientific applications.
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.
This paper serves as a starting point for machine learning researchers, engineers and students who are interested in but not yet familiar with causal inference. We start by laying out an important set of assumptions that are collectively needed for causal identification, such as exchangeability, positivity, consistency and the absence of interference. From these assumptions, we build out a set of important causal inference techniques, which we do so by categorizing them into two buckets; active and passive approaches. We describe and discuss randomized controlled trials and bandit-based approaches from the active category. We then describe classical approaches, such as matching and inverse probability weighting, in the passive category, followed by more recent deep learning based algorithms. By finishing the paper with some of the missing aspects of causal inference from this paper, such as collider biases, we expect this paper to provide readers with a diverse set of starting points for further reading and research in causal inference and discovery.