Abstract: Autoregressive sampling from large language models has led to state-of-the-art results in several natural language tasks.However, autoregressive sampling generates tokens one at a time making it slow, and even prohibitive in certain tasks. One way to speed up sampling is *speculative decoding*: use a small model to sample a *draft* (block or sequence of tokens), and then score all tokens in the draft by the large language model in parallel. A subset of the tokens in the draft are accepted (and the rest rejected) based on a statistical method to guarantee that the final output follows the distribution of the large model. In this work, we provide a principled understanding of speculative decoding through the lens of optimal transport (OT) with *membership cost*. This framework can be viewed as an extension of the well-known *maximal-coupling* problem. This new formulation enables us to generalize the speculative decoding method to allow for a set of $k$ candidates at the token-level, which leads to an improved optimal membership cost. We show that the optimal draft selection algorithm (transport plan) can be computed via linear programming, whose best-known runtime is exponential in $k$. We then propose a valid draft selection algorithm whose acceptance probability is $(1-1/e)$-optimal multiplicatively. Moreover, it can be computed in time almost linear with size of domain of a single token.Using this new draft selection algorithm, we develop a new autoregressive sampling algorithm called *SpecTr*, which provides speedup in decoding while ensuring that there is no quality degradation in the decoded output.We experimentally demonstrate that for state-of-the-art large language models, the proposed approach achieves a wall clock speedup of 2.13X, a further 1.37X speedup over speculative decoding on standard benchmarks.
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