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Abstract:Large Language Models (LLMs) have profoundly changed the world. Their self-attention mechanism is the key to the success of transformers in LLMs. However, the quadratic computational cost $O(n^2)$ to the length $n$ input sequence is the notorious obstacle for further improvement and scalability in the longer context. In this work, we leverage the convolution-like structure of attention matrices to develop an efficient approximation method for attention computation using convolution matrices. We propose a $\mathsf{conv}$ basis system, "similar" to the rank basis, and show that any lower triangular (attention) matrix can always be decomposed as a sum of $k$ structured convolution matrices in this basis system. We then design an algorithm to quickly decompose the attention matrix into $k$ convolution matrices. Thanks to Fast Fourier Transforms (FFT), the attention {\it inference} can be computed in $O(knd \log n)$ time, where $d$ is the hidden dimension. In practice, we have $ d \ll n$, i.e., $d=3,072$ and $n=1,000,000$ for Gemma. Thus, when $kd = n^{o(1)}$, our algorithm achieve almost linear time, i.e., $n^{1+o(1)}$. Furthermore, the attention {\it training forward} and {\it backward gradient} can be computed in $n^{1+o(1)}$ as well. Our approach can avoid explicitly computing the $n \times n$ attention matrix, which may largely alleviate the quadratic computational complexity. Furthermore, our algorithm works on any input matrices. This work provides a new paradigm for accelerating attention computation in transformers to enable their application to longer contexts.