Transformer-based models generally allocate the same amount of computation for each token in a given sequence. We develop a simple but effective “token dropping” method to accelerate the pretraining of transformer models, such as BERT, without degrading its performance on downstream tasks. In particular, we drop unimportant tokens starting from an intermediate layer in the model to make the model focus on important tokens more efficiently if with limited computational resource. The dropped tokens are later picked up by the last layer of the model so that the model still produces full-length sequences. We leverage the already built-in masked language modeling (MLM) loss to identify unimportant tokens with practically no computational overhead. In our experiments, this simple approach reduces the pretraining cost of BERT by 25% while achieving similar overall fine-tuning performance on standard downstream tasks.
Natural Language Processing (NLP) has recently achieved great success by using huge pre-trained models with hundreds of millions of parameters. However, these models suffer from heavy model sizes and high latency such that they cannot be deployed to resource-limited mobile devices. In this paper, we propose MobileBERT for compressing and accelerating the popular BERT model. Like the original BERT, MobileBERT is task-agnostic, that is, it can be generically applied to various downstream NLP tasks via simple fine-tuning. Basically, MobileBERT is a thin version of BERT_LARGE, while equipped with bottleneck structures and a carefully designed balance between self-attentions and feed-forward networks. To train MobileBERT, we first train a specially designed teacher model, an inverted-bottleneck incorporated BERT_LARGE model. Then, we conduct knowledge transfer from this teacher to MobileBERT. Empirical studies show that MobileBERT is 4.3x smaller and 5.5x faster than BERT_BASE while achieving competitive results on well-known benchmarks. On the natural language inference tasks of GLUE, MobileBERT achieves a GLUE score of 77.7 (0.6 lower than BERT_BASE), and 62 ms latency on a Pixel 4 phone. On the SQuAD v1.1/v2.0 question answering task, MobileBERT achieves a dev F1 score of 90.0/79.2 (1.5/2.1 higher than BERT_BASE).