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Workshop: Socially Responsible Language Modelling Research (SoLaR)

Controlled Decoding from Language Models

Sidharth Mudgal · Jong Lee · Harish Ganapathy · YaGuang Li · Tao Wang · Yanping Huang · zhifeng Chen · Heng-Tze Cheng · Michael Collins · Jilin Chen · Alex Beutel · Ahmad Beirami


We propose controlled decoding (CD), a novel off-policy reinforcement learning method to control the autoregressive generation from language models towards high reward outcomes. CD solves an off-policy reinforcement learning problem through a value function for the reward, which we call a prefix scorer. The prefix scorer is used at inference time to steer the generation towards higher reward outcomes. We show that the prefix scorer may be trained on (possibly) off-policy data to predict the expected reward when decoding is continued from a partially decoded response. We empirically demonstrate that CD is effective as a control mechanism on Reddit conversations corpus. We also show that the modularity of the design of CD makes it possible to control for multiple rewards effectively solving a multi-objective reinforcement learning problem with no additional complexity. Finally, we show that CD can be applied in a novel blockwise fashion at inference-time, again without the need for any training-time changes, essentially bridging the gap between the popular sequence-level best-of-k strategy and token-level reinforcement learning. This makes CD a promising approach for alignment of language models.

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