Most widely used pre-trained language models operate on sequences of tokens corresponding to word or subword units. By comparison, token-free models that operate directly on raw text (bytes or characters) have many benefits: They can process text in any language out of the box, they are more robust to noise, and they minimize technical debt by removing complex and error-prone text preprocessing pipelines. Because byte or character sequences are longer than token sequences, past work on token-free models has often introduced new model architectures designed to amortize the cost of operating directly on raw text. In this paper, we show that a standard Transformer architecture can be used with minimal modifications to process byte sequences. We characterize the trade-offs in terms of parameter count, training FLOPs, and inference speed, and show that byte-level models are competitive with their token-level counterparts. We also demonstrate that byte-level models are significantly more robust to noise and perform better on tasks that are sensitive to spelling and pronunciation. As part of our contribution, we release a new set of pre-trained byte-level Transformer models based on the T5 architecture, as well as all code and data used in our experiments.1
The research community has proposed copious modifications to the Transformer architecture since it was introduced over three years ago, relatively few of which have seen widespread adoption. In this paper, we comprehensively evaluate many of these modifications in a shared experimental setting that covers most of the common uses of the Transformer in natural language processing. Surprisingly, we find that most modifications do not meaningfully improve performance. Furthermore, most of the Transformer variants we found beneficial were either developed in the same codebase that we used or are relatively minor changes. We conjecture that performance improvements may strongly depend on implementation details and correspondingly make some recommendations for improving the generality of experimental results.
The recent “Text-to-Text Transfer Transformer” (T5) leveraged a unified text-to-text format and scale to attain state-of-the-art results on a wide variety of English-language NLP tasks. In this paper, we introduce mT5, a multilingual variant of T5 that was pre-trained on a new Common Crawl-based dataset covering 101 languages. We detail the design and modified training of mT5 and demonstrate its state-of-the-art performance on many multilingual benchmarks. We also describe a simple technique to prevent “accidental translation” in the zero-shot setting, where a generative model chooses to (partially) translate its prediction into the wrong language. All of the code and model checkpoints used in this work are publicly available.
It has recently been observed that neural language models trained on unstructured text can implicitly store and retrieve knowledge using natural language queries. In this short paper, we measure the practical utility of this approach by fine-tuning pre-trained models to answer questions without access to any external context or knowledge. We show that this approach scales with model size and performs competitively with open-domain systems that explicitly retrieve answers from an external knowledge source when answering questions. To facilitate reproducibility and future work, we release our code and trained models.