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Lexinvariant Language Models

Qian Huang · Eric Zelikman · Sarah Chen · Yuhuai Wu · Gregory Valiant · Percy Liang

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #529
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Wed 13 Dec 8:45 a.m. PST — 10:45 a.m. PST

Abstract:

Token embeddings, a mapping from discrete lexical symbols to continuous vectors, are at the heart of any language model (LM). However, lexical symbol meanings can also be determined and even redefined by their structural role in a long context. In this paper, we ask: is it possible for a language model to be performant without \emph{any} fixed token embeddings? Such a language model would have to rely entirely on the co-occurence and repetition of tokens in the context rather than the \textit{a priori} identity of any token. To answer this, we study \textit{lexinvariant}language models that are invariant to lexical symbols and therefore do not need fixed token embeddings in practice. First, we prove that we can construct a lexinvariant LM to converge to the true language model at a uniform rate that is polynomial in terms of the context length, with a constant factor that is sublinear in the vocabulary size. Second, to build a lexinvariant LM, we simply encode tokens using random Gaussian vectors, such that each token maps to the same representation within each sequence but different representations across sequences. Empirically, we demonstrate that it can indeed attain perplexity comparable to that of a standard language model, given a sufficiently long context. We further explore two properties of the lexinvariant language models: First, given text generated from a substitution cipher of English, it implicitly implements Bayesian in-context deciphering and infers the mapping to the underlying real tokens with high accuracy. Second, it has on average 4X better accuracy over synthetic in-context reasoning tasks. Finally, we discuss regularizing standard language models towards lexinvariance and potential practical applications.

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