Trip Report: NAACL 2022

August 06, 2022

I recently attended NAACL 2022, the North American Association of Computational Linguistics conference, as a poster presenter. I have another meta-post on my learnings about conferences in general, but in this post I’ll go over what I thought were the more interesting technical parts of the conference.


There were many different tracks covered at the conference, I won’t try to summarize everything, the themes in bold are the ones which will be summarized later.

  • Computational Social Science
  • Dialogue and Interactive Systems
  • Efficient Transformers and other methods
  • Ethics
  • Human-Centered Design
  • Industry Applications
  • Information Retrieval
  • Interpretability
  • Language Grounding
  • Linguistics Theories and NLP
  • Machine Translation
  • Multimodality
  • Question Answering
  • Semantics
  • Speech
  • Summarization
  • Text Generation and Editing
  • Low Resource NLP

Text Generation and Editing


The main event here was a tutoral by Eric Malmi (an almunus of Aalto!) and colleagues on Text Editing models. In contrast to generation and sequence-to-sequence methods, text-editing models are concerned with classes of problems where there is a large degree of overlap between the source and target sequences. These sorts of problems come up in for example grammatical error correction, style transfer and summarization. In text editing problems, different priorities exist compared to typical text generation. Those include faithfulness to the original text, controllability, as well as data efficiency and latency.

The most straightforward method for learned text editing is a typical sequence-to-sequence model, such as a Transformer. Unfortunately, Transformers are known to be data-hungry models. They can also have significant latency at inference time because each decoded token needs to be fed back into the decoder self-and-cross-attention layers. And despite strong average performance on benchmarks such as SQuAD, we don’t really have any guarantee on an instance level about faithfulness to the original text. Inventing extra (undesired) content, also known as hallucination, remains a problem. There’s also not really a method of controlling or constraining sequence-to-sequence models, other than through conditioning through the encoder sequence (though see Dathathri et al on Plug and Play Language Models for an approach to doing this with regular transformers and an auxiliary classifier).

Different aspects and design choices in text-editing models were discussed. For example:

Levensthein Transformer arcihtecture diagram, from Gu et al. 2019

Levensthein Transformer arcihtecture diagram, from Gu et al. 2019

  • Tagging Architecture: This concerns the output space of the model. Many well-known text editing models like Levensthein Transformer, LEWIS, FELIX and LaserTagger all use per-token tagging. In these models, each token is tagged with some operation, for example KEEP or REPLACE, then there is some other part of the model which generates new tokens conditioned on the old token and the edit operation. Where the models differ is in what sort of edit operations exist and how that constrains the output vocabulary. Hallucination is still a problem whenever generating text, so approaches like LaserTagger fight that by building a large phrase book of replacements, then picking corrections only from the phrasebook. Clearly this has the limitation of requiring a very large phrasebook to get good performance. On the other hand, GeCTOR and PIE have a large number of available edit operations, which when chosen, admit a small number of replacement tokens.
  • Decoder: There are many different decoder architectures available. The simplest choice is “feedforward”, where every token in the encoded input is tagged independently, then tokens are generated later as appropriate. This is very fast, much faster than any other method, since the tagging can happen in parallel. However it makes some classes of edits more difficult to model, especially if the edit at token ii is conditionally dependent in some way on what happens at i1i - 1. Autoregressive decoding handles this, but this comes at the cost of a significantly higher inference time latency, since decoding operations are effectively serialized (and the same inference logic is repeated many times). Another form of decoding is known as ”iterative refinement” and is used in Awasthi et al 2019 (Parallel Iterative Edit Models for Local Sequence Transduction), aka the PIE model, which use a feedforward decoder recursively - that is, using its own edits at iteration i1i - 1 as the input for iteration ii.
  • Controllability: Controllability in edit models ties in a lot with the choice of tagging architecture used and restrictions placed on the output vocabulary. Some good heuristics for ensuring that the output text is faithful to the source are to enforce re-use of input spans, restricting the output vocabulary size etc, biasing the likelihood of certain edit types, for example KEEP (as is done in GECToR).
  • Datasets: There’s lots of grammatically correct text out there and even more grammatically incorrect text. But not a whole of text where we have both grammatically incorrect text and gold labels for correct versions. Sometimes its hard to define what the grammatically correct version might even be, because there are many “right” answers. Good enough solution for now is to take a grammatically correct dataset and introduce known grammatical errors into it, following the error distribution of some known correction dataset. A version of Common Crawl (C4) has been produced with 200 million synthetically introduced errors, see Stahlberg et al (Synthetic Data Generation for Grammatical Error Correction Models). Synthetic data generation isn’t a solved problem though. For example, it is difficult to generate errors that are caused by long-term dependency mismatch, for example pronoun, possessive or tense agreement.
  • Latency: Much of this is related to the section on Decoders above, but one thing pointed out here is that the difference in latency between the encoder and decoder is huge, like a factor of 10 difference on typical sentences. So if you care about latency, trying to make the encoder faster doesn’t make much sense and instead its better to focus on on the decoder, either by reducing the number of decoder steps or reducing the latency at each step.

Generation and Decoding

There were also many papers presented at the main conference on the broader topic of generation.

A big theme this year was controllable generation and decoding. The typical method for doing decoding and generation is autoregressive decoding, where then chosen token at index ii is the one with the highest log-likelihood conditioned on the previously decoded tokens (logp(titi1,...,t0)\log p(t_i|t_{i - 1}, ..., t_0)). A commonly used extension of this is beam search, where the decoding method maintains kk “beams” and for each “beam” we pick the top ll tokens with the highest conditional log-likelihood, then out of those klkl nodes, we pick the top kk beams with the highest log-likelihood sum (jilogp(tjtj1,...,t0)\sum_{j \le i} \log p(t_j|t_{j - 1}, ..., t_0)). A drawback of these methods is that they only account for perplexity, and while they can be extended to account for other metrics too, they’re not very flexible. In beam search for example, performance can depend a lot on the number of beams kk and the beam width ll. There are also other decoding methods as well, such as the diffusion-inspired Austin et al. D3PM which was presented at NeurIPS 2021.

NeuroLogic A*-esque Decoding from Lu et al. 2022, showing the operation of lookahead on constraint satisfaction

NeuroLogic A*-esque Decoding from Lu et al. 2022, showing the operation of lookahead on constraint satisfaction

A best paper award was given to Lu et al. (NeuroLogic A*-esque decoding: constrained text generation with lookahead heuristics). As the title suggests, this paper proposes to use the A* graph search algorithm as part of the decoding process, enabling flexible cost-guided generation with a smaller computational budget than maintaining a large beam width. Another paper presented was Chaffin et al. (PPL-MCTS: Constrained Textual Generation Through Discrimiantor-Guided MCTS Decoding). This was a similar paper, which addresses the controllable generation problem through monte-carlo tree search. The point of this method is that there are some metrics (for example, how much you’re repeating yourself, or how “toxic” some statement is likely to be) which you can only reliably estimate once you’ve expanded nodes to a sufficient depth. In that sense, it is similar to why we might want to use MCTS for model-based planning problems. MCTS gives you a way of estimating the value of the next chosen token based on simulated rollouts of future states.

PPL-MCTS Diagram from Chaffin et al. 2022 showing decoding by monte-carlo tree search and a discriminator at sufficient tree depths

PPL-MCTS Diagram from Chaffin et al. 2022 showing decoding by monte-carlo tree search and a discriminator at sufficient tree depths

A nice observation from these controlled generation papers is that controlled generation is sort of like an alternative to fine-tuning. This was also an observation in the PPLM paper; the basic idea is that if we have some large language model, it might be easier to train a discriminator to evaluate whether or not the generated statement is has some characteristics of what you want. This is because the language model might actually know how to generate what you want, but the input prompts aren’t enough to give those utterances a high likelihood. This is related to an idea put forward in Jacob Andreas’ talk, where it was stated that large language models could be considered to have many different “speakers” and generating the right utterances can be a matter of just finding the right speaker.

Loss functions for Generation

There were also some talks on loss functions for language generation. Standard language modelling uses the cross-entropy loss on next-word prediction. But sometimes there can be permutations of a statement that mean the same thing and cross-entropy loss quite heavily penalizes anything that isn’t an exact match, even if there’s a large degree of overlap between the generated and target sequence. Liu et al. (Don’t take it Literally: An Edit-Invariant Sequence Loss for Text Generation) try to deal with this problem with a novel loss function (EISL) that computes matching loss of n-grams. The idea is sort of similar to a convolutional networkm - we take n-grams in the target sequence and slide that over the generated sequence, computing the loss each time, weighting each computed loss with reference to the expected position of the n-gram in the generated sequence. This is quite nice in the sense that there’s a connection to the BLEU metric, which itself also computes the matching score of all 1, 2, 3 and 4-grams between the source and the target.


There was a tutorial on multimodality by JP Morency and Paul Liang. It was divided into a few different sections, each going into some detail about the core technical challenges and approaches taken for each.

  • Representations: Usually if we have multimodal inputs we want to make some representation of all modalities, fused together in some way. There’s late fusion and early fusion, which refers to whether the modalities are processed independently of each other (late) or whether they are processed with reference to each other and the interaction between influences the processing of each modality (early, like FiLM). Then in the field of early fusion, there are all sorts of techniques for computing interactions, like Attention, Gated Fusion, Bilinear Interpolation and even something called Tensor Fusion, which can be computed efficiently by decomposition into low-rank tensors. Then there is the question of whether everything should live in one representation space, or separate representation spaces with a known projection function to coordinate the representations, like Canonical Correlation Analysis. There’s also an interesting angle on contrastive learning here, where CLIP can be seen as a coordination function which learns projections for representations in both the vision and text space such that they are close in latent space. There was also something totally new to me called Representation Fission. In this case, you try to learn a representation for each modality such that there is disentanglement, eg, information that is only in the text modality can only be found in the text represention, and likewise for the image modality. An example of this might be that an image and text both describe the same thing, but the text representation captures mainly the linguistic style or features, whereas the visual representation captures the image style and the joint representation captures the shared concept.
  • Alignment: This is the challenge of identifying correpsondences between modalities. For example object labelling using words in the sentence or cross-attention like LXMERT or UNITER. Usually the purpose of alignment is to make better representations by removing redundancy and encoding the connection between the modalities. Alignment also assumes that elements are sufficiently disentangled in the source modalities, for example whether that be objects in an image, or words in a sentence and so on. If you don’t have this, then you need a disentangled latent representation. Then there’s the question of how to compute the alignment, with examples including Dynamic Time Warping, Optimal Transport, Graph Networks amongst others.
  • Reasoning: Many multimodal tasks can involve some element of reasoning. For example, visual question answering and instruction-following can require this. Reasoning should “go beyond just fusion” in the representations such that the representations happen to correlate with whatever the right answer is, rather there should be some more explicitly interpretable or robust process. The first step is to learn the relationships between the elements of the modalities and their overall structure. Structure could be for example in time or along elements of a list in some order, in which case you would want to use a memory based approach. Or the structure could have some hierarchy, where you want to replicate the hierarchy in one modality in the other modality (see Hong et al. 2022 - Learning to Compose and Reason with Language Tree Structures for Visual Grounding). Once you have a structure, you will want to do inference over that structure in a robust manner, for example logical inference (Gokhale 2020. VQA-LOL) or even better, causal inference (Agarwal et al. 2020, Towards Causal VQA), but learning causal models requires datasets that support interventions. There’s also the subfield of incorporating information fetched from external knowledgebases into your representations or causal reasoning process, see for example (Gui et al. 2021, KAT: A Knowledge Augmented Transformer for Vision and Language).

Factorized Multimodal Representations from Tsai et al. 2019

Factorized Multimodal Representations from Tsai et al. 2019

  • Generation: Once you have understood the inputs, you might want to generate some outputs in one or more modalities. A very well-known generative model is OpenAI’s DALL-E 2. But there are lots of other approaches, like the VQ-VAE encoder-decoder used in the original DALL-E paper. One interesting paper here is Tsai et al. 2019, Learning Factorized Multimodal Representations, which enables generation to more content than the model started out with, because it learns factorized representations of the input (into “multimodal discriminative factors” and “modality-specific generative factors”, where the latter are unique for each modality). An application of this is SVHN / MNIST style transfer, eg, the first modality is SVHN and the second modality is MNIST.

Cyclic Translations between Modalities in Pham et al. 2019

Cyclic Translations between Modalities in Pham et al. 2019

  • Transferrence: If we learned a lot of things frm one modality, we might want to transfer that information to the other modality in some way. Asides from the standard multimodal transformers like UNITER, LXMERT and PerceiverIO, one other line of work is HighMMT, which extends PerceiverIO by training with tasks in multiple output modalities as well, which are not shared amongst all the tasks. There’s also the idea of co-learning, where multiple modalities are used at training time and only one modality is used at test time. To ensure that both modalities are used, one approach is to predict the second modality from the first one, and vice versa as a form of cross-reconstruction loss (See, Pham et al. 2019, Found in Translation: Learning Robust Joint Representations by Cyclic Translations between Modalities)

Multimodal Workshop

Language Grounding

Yonatan Bisk gave a talk entitled “Body and Mind” on some open problems in language in robotics and interacting with humans.

The talk started off with the “gap” between simulated, simple environments and “realistic” rich environments (or even real robots). In simple environments we’re able to do things with quite complex language, in real environments we’re able to do things with very constrained goal, state or action spaces. Then there’s a gap between the two where performance is still very bad. The problem is that there are a lot of difficult problems all at the same time, or in other words, the problem is everything.

One benchmark is ALFRED, which is a suite of vision-language navigation environments with rich observations, temporally extended goals and a simple action space. Baseline performance here isn’t great and performance on “unseen environments” is much worse. However, there have been recent advances which have helped! Speaker-Follower (Fried et al 2018) demonstrates a way to make natural language descriptions of a trajectory, which can help with breaking things down into subtasks. Tactical Rewind provides a mechanism to do backtracking. Progress Monitor shows how to keep track of what has actually been done. Environmental Dropout improves robustness to new environments. There’s also Bayesian State Tracking for learning planning by imitation and VLN-BERT to query a knowledgebase on how to perform new tasks. Then there’s there’s Look Wide and Interpret Twice which does planning first in the abstract space, then with reference to the visual instructions. FILM which helps with mapping in partially observable situations and AMSLAM which accounts for affordances in semantic representations.

Progress on ALFRED, from Yonatan's talk

Progress on ALFRED, from Yonatan's talk

The things which really help in these types of problems roughly align with our intutions about what might make these problems difficult for humans. For example, the challenge of partial observability can be dealt with by mapping exploration (SLAM). Then the challenge of alignment and keeping track of subtasks can be dealt with by appropriate memory architectures and subgoal planners.

The other part of the talk looked at mental models and language as a mode of communication. In particular, what if instead of exploration, we could ask for help. An example of this is how humans interact; if we need to find something in the kitchen, we don’t go searching every cupboard and drawer for it, instead we ask someone else if they know where the knife is. This is a harder problem than it looks, because in order to do this you have to know your own limits, then know what to ask for, and who to ask and how to ask it. A few different papers were talked about here, including (Zhu 2022, Language Learning from Communicative Goals and Linguistic Input) which fomulates language as a communicative game and (Roman 2020, RMM) which extends POMDP with a stack for recurisve dialogs.

Reading to Learn

Victor Zhong gave a talk on in-context learning when it comes to vision-language problems. The main hypothesis of the talk was that there’s a interactive problems where we don’t have actual demonstrations but we have text descriptions of what to do and how the rules work in a symbolic space. Can we learn to leverage that information somehow in order to transfer to new environments? Or in other words, can we learn how to read to learn.

Victor talks about the RTFM environment where you have a simple grid world in which the dynamics shift on every episode. In the grid world you have two monsters and two items. One of the items can be used to defeat one of the monsters. On every episode the pairings and the goal change. In addition to the state observations you have a “manual” which tells you which item beats which monster (sometimes through some level of indirection), then you are asked to defeat one of the monsters. On the test data there are unseen dynamics, so the point of the task is to learn to read the manual and determine the dynamics. There’s some evidence to suggest that learning in this way can generalize a bit better later on.

This is then extended with the SiLG environment, which is really just an amalgamation of several text-based environments and corresponding manuals and descriptions, such as RTFM, Messenger and others.

TextWorld version of ALFRED, from Shidhar et al. 2021

TextWorld version of ALFRED, from Shidhar et al. 2021

Victor also talks about how it might be better to learn policies in the abstract symbolic space, then figure out a way to transfer these to other environments later on. This is what TextWorld and ALFWorld try to do. In ALFWorld there is a paired text-based environment and embodied environment. The text based environment is solveable on its own without reference to the embodied environment. The idea behind this is to learn to solve the problem in the text-world first, then learn how how to describe observations and actions in the real world using text. If we can do this, then we can learn in other text worlds and transfer that to the real world using our transfer mechanism. The paper shows that you can do a little better on the unseen environments in this way.

Victor also motivates a little in the talk about how there’s a lot of real world data that could be used by this approach. For example, there are lots of tutorial videos on how to do something with Photoshop, or how to cook a particular dish. These can be used to link observations in the real world to textual descriptions of what is happening at each step. There is even more data which explains in the purely symbolic space (eg in text) how to do certain tasks, for example recipe websites, instruction manuals or even legal policies or guidelines.

Compositional Image Generation and Transformers

Drew Hudson gave a talk on inductive biases for compositionality, especially in image generation. She started out with a demonstration of how foundational models, such as CLIP and DALL-E 2 could fail in peculiar ways. They are sensitive to small changes in their input and aren’t much better than chance when it comes to compositional scene generation and modelling relations between objects. There’s even an entire benchmark suite called Winoground which most models are failing pretty badly at. She refers to them as effectively “bags of concepts”. The main problem is reliance on convolutions. Convolutions are great, since they’re translation invariant and also can be implemented efficiently, but they only have a local receptive field and its hard to capture long-range dependencies between finer features. One example of this is that GANs can produce a face consistently, even though the face spans most of the image, but the eye colours may not be consistent. The problem gets even harder when there are dependencies across frames, for example with video.

Transformers seem to be a better architectural choice when you want to model these sorts of dependencies, but computational complexity is a bottleneck. Vision Transformers solve this problem in a hacky way by either heavily downsampling, or slicing up the image into patches and doing attention between encoded patches.

The first GANformer (Hudson and Manning 2021) uses a Perceiver-like architecture to generate images. Latents are sampled and then the image is generated

The first GANformer (Hudson and Manning 2021) uses a Perceiver-like architecture to generate images. Latents are sampled and then the image is generated

In the context of image generation, first the GANFormer model is discussed. This model is sort of like PerceiverIO and other inducing point methods like Set Transformers, but are extended using a method called “Bipartite Attention”. The main difference to the inducing point methods is that the attention goes both ways - so instead of the image features only being the queries and values and the inducing points (referred to as latents in the talk) being the keys, the same is also true in reverse. In the paper this this bipartite attention is described as having a similar foundation to k-means or VQ-VAE. The GAN part comes in where instead of the latents being parameters of the model like in Perceiver, they are instead sampled by the generator, then attend to pixels of the image at the current layer, which are then upsampled using a convolution. The authors of that paper also did some interpretation of the attention maps and found that the attention between the latents and the generated images revealed some level of correspondence between contiguous regions of the image corresponding to specific textures and the latents.

GANformer 2 focuses more on the compositionality aspect by learning to generate segmentation and depth maps first, then using those as a mask when generating images from latents

GANformer 2 focuses more on the compositionality aspect by learning to generate segmentation and depth maps first, then using those as a mask when generating images from latents

The compositional inductive bias was improved in GANFormer 2. In this paper a stronger inductive bias is built in to the same model by leveraging other models for scene decomposition and depth estimation as intermediary steps. The latents are used to predict the layout and depth ordering, then once those are predicted (the planning stage), we move on to the execution stage where the latents generate only the region that they are responsible for. With this we can dynamically add and remove objects by adding and removing latents, or changing their properties to affect their ordering etc.


Models of Meaning

Jacob Andreas gave a talk called “Models of Meaning”. Unfortunately I only came in part-way through and the recording of the talk is not available. The talk was about inferring meaning from language. Models often fail when the task is p(statetext)p(\text{state}|\text{text}). There are many different failure modes, curiously sometimes the model won’t even use the ground truth state that was provided if the state is something different to what it knows.

Things that might be helpful in these situations are inferring latent semantic states through hindsight.

There was also some discussion of what it means to use language models as as knowledge bases. The main problem with this is that language models have lots of mutually incompatible beliefs, and it depends on which “speaker” in the model that you’re talking to as to what belief about the world that you’re going to get.

Causality and Compositionality

Jacob Eisenstein presented Informativeness and Invariance: Two Perspectives on Spurious Correlations in Natural Language at one of the poster sessions. The idea is that we can use causal graphs to generate datasets with spurious correlations and without spurious correlations. Linlu Qiu gave a talk on Improving Compositional Generalization with Latent Structure and Data Augmentation. The general idea was to induce a generative model with a quasi-synchronous context free grammar backbone from the training data, then use that to generate more training data by recombining using that grammar. This works well on problems that are relatively structured. Ayush Chakravarthy also presented Systematicity Emerges in Transfrormers when Abstract Grammatical Roles Guide Attention in the poster session, which proposes to assign grammatical roles (for example VERB) to words in a sentence, then use those as the keys and queries and the words themselves as values, which can help with compositional generalization.

Using abstract grammatical roles to compute attention weights in Chakravarthy et al. 2022

Using abstract grammatical roles to compute attention weights in Chakravarthy et al. 2022

Data Efficiency and Low Resource Languages

Sebastian Ruder gave a talk on Deep Learning for Low Resource languages, particularly on the challenges that are faced in low-resource settings and some possible approaches to improve performance.

Sebastian starts out with challenges all the way at the beginning of the NLP pipeline, specifically in subword segmentation. If you have a multilingual model, the words in high-resource languages are under-segmented and words in low-resource languages are over-segmented. The segmentatons also don’t align with linguistically useful morphemes. Some solutions to this problem are deterministic word segmentation, and probabilistic segmentation during training. We can also enforce robustness with a consistency loss over different segmentations, so given two segmentations of the same utterance, we should get similar predictions on the downstream task, or at least similar sentence-level representations. One could imagine this as a kind of constrastive learning problem, similar to how SimCLR enforces representation similarity across different views of the same image.

There are other inductive biases that you can use to try and boostrap the learning process when you don’t have much in the way of parallel corpora. For example if you have a word-for-word translation dictionary, you can make up a subtask where you take some high-resource language text, translate the words word-for-word and then use those as targets for a machine translation model.


Another area of discussion was ”Adapter Layers”. The idea behind these is to take some existing transformer model, freeze the weights, then insert an “adapter” trainable feedforward network with a residual connection on each transformer layer and fine-tune the transformer on the target language data using that adapter layer. This is a nice approach to multilinguality, because if you want to change languages, you can just swap out the adapter without having to store information about all languages within the weigths of a single transformer. There are lots of different “shapes” of adapters, including prefix tuning, LoRA, Parallel Adapters and Scaled Parallel Adapters.

Adapter modules inserted into a transformer, from Houlsby and Giurgiu et al. 2019

Adapter modules inserted into a transformer, from Houlsby and Giurgiu et al. 2019

Adapters and fine-tuning also received some attention at the “Efficient Methods” oral presentations session. On the Transferrability of Prompt Tuning for Natural Language Processing by Yusheng Su, examines prompt-tuning as an alternative to fine-tuning. The idea is to tune some prefix to the prompt so that the model performs better downstream, without having to fine-tune the weights. Adaptable Adapters by Nafise Moosavi extends on the notion of Adapters by proposing a sort of generalized adapter with a learnable activation function and learnable layer toggle with gumbel softmax as opposed to a residual connection.


One area that was generating a lot of casual discussion was “chain of thought prompting”. In these models, instead of a model being trained to immediately answer a question, it is instead trained to give the reasoning steps, then then feeds those reasoning steps back into its context to give either further reasoning steps or a final answer. These models can do very well on “math-word” problems, for examle PaLM without chain-of-thought prompting gets 17.9% success rate on GSM8K but with chain-of-thought prompting that number improves to 58.1%.

Compute Efficiency

There was a series of oral presentations on efficient methods in NLP, where the themes could be broken down into “efficient” (mostly transformer) models which reduce compute or memory complexity by approximating what a Transformer does, and “efficiency” in terms of transfer and distillation.

Xiangyang Liu presented “Towards Efficient NLP: A Standard Evaluation and Strong Baseline”. The main point of this talk was to come up with a standardized framework and benchmark for doing Pareto-SOTA chasing instead of SOTA chasing. The point of this is to determine what approaches are doing well on the same task given a certain function of compute budgets. They propose the ELUE benchmark, which measures performance on a few challenging NLP tasks (sentiment analysis, NLI, paraphrasing) as well as FLOPs usage.

FNet architecture in the context of a Transformer

FNet architecture in the context of a Transformer

On the side of compute and memory efficient architectures, FNet was presented by James Lee-Thorp. This paper also received a best paper award. The presented architecture is another alternative to attention by transforming to the frequency domain using a 2D discrete fourier transform and extracting the real component, then transforming the resulting spectral data by the feedforward layers. There’s no need to undo the fourier transform at the end of every layer because of the duality of the DFT operation, eg, it is in-principle the inverse of itself (with a note in the paper that this isn’t quite true since the DFT is no longer invertible at the point where the imaginary component is discarded). All that is required is that you have an even number of layers to ensure that the final layer is in time-domain. In that sense, the feedforward layers, which apply transformations to the spectral data, can be seen as a kind of tunable convolution, since they are doing multiplication in the frequency domain. If FFT is used as opposed to DFT, this architecture can scale quite well to large input lengths, since it scales O(nlogn)O(n \log n). The authors of the paper show that it is competitive in terms of latency/accurracy tradeoff. It is not quite as accurrate as other Transformer models, but is about 70-80% faster at training and inference time in practice.

Kronecker factorization from Tahaei et al. 2022

Kronecker factorization from Tahaei et al. 2022

KroneckerBERT presents a method of weight compression by learning factors to a Kronecker product. By learning the factors to the Kronekcer product, we can reduce memory usage from O(m4)O(m^4) to O(m2)O(m^2). Compared to spectral compression of weight matrices using SVD, this sort of Kronecker decomposition retains most of the performance of the transformer, losing only 2 percentage points on accurracy in next word predicton. Another model compression paper was Learning to Win Lottery Tickets in BERT Transfer via Task-Agnostic Mask Training by Yuanxin Liu et al.. This paper approaches model BERT model compression through the lens of the “lottery ticket hypothesis” and proposes a method to learn a binary mask which is optimized by continuing to train on the pre-training task. Then this binary mask can be applied to reduce the model size. The paper Sparse Distillation: Speeding up text classification by using bigger student models by Qinuan Ye examined model distillation through the perspective of Deep Averaging Networks, eg, averaging embeddings of n-grams for tasks like text classification. The idea is to train a big language model and then distill into a deep averager by consistency loss. Turns out that very simple models like these can perform wtihin a 3% gap compared to other methods and run about 600 times faster. Szymon Tworkoski has been working on Hierarchical Transformers. In that paper, the authors demonstrate how to downsample and upsample sequence lengths in a transformer to create the same hourglass shape that we’re used to seeing in vision models. This made me think that you could do something similar with the Perceiver Architecture and it turns out that this has also been done recently as well, see this paper by Joao Carreira and other authors at DeepMind.

Hierarchical Transformer from Tworkoski et al.

Hierarchical Transformer from Tworkoski et al.

Key Takeaways

The main things I learned about from this conference were:

  • There’s still a lot of work to be done in the field of grounded language learning, it seems like we’re still really only scratching the surface of this multi-faceted problem

  • Adapters, which I had not even heard of until NAACL, are a much more efficient way of doing task transfer than fine-tuning big models. Indeed it will probably become impossible to fine-tune the big models on regular hardware soon and Adapters seem like a good way of handling that problem, along with other alternatives like prefix and prompt tuning.

  • We shouldn’t ignore different ways of doing decoding and we might be able to get more controllability if we do decoding in more clever ways. PPL-MCTS and A*-esque Decoding are good first steps for approaches to try here.

  • We’re still not really closer to getting models that truly understand the compositional structure of language or observations, but appropriate data augmentation or priors imposed at training time like is done in GANFormer 2 seem to at least paper over many of the obvious failure modes.

    This blog post only really scratches the surface. It would probably take me a few months of watching videos nonstop in order to write about the whole thing. If you’re interested in checking it out, you can pay the virtual conference registration fee and check out the site on underline.

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Written by Sam Spilsbury an Australian PhD student living in Helsinki.