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.
Task-oriented dialogue systems help users accomplish tasks such as booking a movie ticket and ordering food via conversation. Generative models parameterized by a deep neural network are widely used for next turn response generation in such systems. It is natural for users of the system to want to accomplish multiple tasks within the same conversation, but the ability of generative models to compose multiple tasks is not well studied. In this work, we begin by studying the effect of training human-human task-oriented dialogues towards improving the ability to compose multiple tasks on Transformer generative models. To that end, we propose and explore two solutions: (1) creating synthetic multiple task dialogue data for training from human-human single task dialogue and (2) forcing the encoder representation to be invariant to single and multiple task dialogues using an auxiliary loss. The results from our experiments highlight the difficulty of even the sophisticated variant of transformer model in learning to compose multiple tasks from single task dialogues.