Modern large language models (LLMs) have demonstrated impressive capabilities at sophisticated tasks, often through step-by-step reasoning similar to humans. This is made possible by their strong few- and zero-shot abilities – they can effectively learn from a handful of handcrafted, completed responses (“in-context examples”), or are prompted to reason spontaneously through specially designed triggers. Nonetheless, some limitations have been observed. First, performance in the few-shot setting is sensitive to the choice of the examples, whose design requires significant human effort. Moreover, given the diverse downstream tasks of LLMs, it may be difficult or laborious to handcraft per-task labels. Second, while the zero-shot setting does not require handcrafting, its performance is limited due to the lack of guidance to the LLMs. To address these limitations, we propose Consistency-based Self-adaptive Prompting (COSP), a novel prompt design method for LLMs. Requiring neither handcrafted responses nor ground-truth labels, COSP selects and builds the set of examples from the LLM zero-shot outputs via carefully designed criteria combining consistency, diversity and repetition. In the zero-shot setting for three different LLMs, we show that using only LLM predictions, COSP significantly improves performance up to 15% compared to zero-shot baselines and matches or exceeds few-shot baselines at a range of reasoning tasks.
Prompt-based learning has been an effective paradigm for large pretrained language models (LLM), enabling few-shot or even zero-shot learning. Black-box prompt search has received growing interest recently for its distinctive properties of gradient-free optimization, proven particularly useful and powerful for model-as-a-service usage. However, the discrete nature and the complexity of combinatorial optimization hinder the efficiency of modern black-box approaches. Despite extensive research on search algorithms, the crucial aspect of search space design and optimization has been largely overlooked. In this paper, we first conduct a sensitivity analysis by prompting LLM, revealing that only a small number of tokens exert a disproportionate amount of influence on LLM predictions. Leveraging this insight, we propose the Clustering and Pruning for Efficient Black-box Prompt Search (ClaPS), a simple black-box search method that first clusters and prunes the search space to focus exclusively on influential prompt tokens. By employing even simple search methods within the pruned search space, ClaPS achieves state-of-the-art performance across various tasks and LLMs, surpassing the performance of complex approaches while significantly reducing search costs. Our findings underscore the critical role of search space design and optimization in enhancing both the usefulness and the efficiency of black-box prompt-based learning.
A hallmark of modern large language models (LLMs) is their impressive general zero-shot and few-shot abilities, often elicited through in-context learning (ICL) via prompting. However, while highly coveted and being the most general, zero-shot performances in LLMs are still typically weaker due to the lack of guidance and the difficulty of applying existing automatic prompt design methods in general tasks when ground-truth labels are unavailable. In this study, we address this by presenting Universal Self-Adaptive Prompting (USP), an automatic prompt design approach specifically tailored for zero-shot learning (while compatible with few-shot). Requiring only a small amount of unlabeled data and an inference-only LLM, USP is highly versatile: to achieve universal prompting, USP categorizes a possible NLP task into one of the three possible task types and then uses a corresponding selector to select the most suitable queries and zero-shot model-generated responses as pseudo-demonstrations, thereby generalizing ICL to the zero-shot setup in a fully automated way. We evaluate USP with PaLM and PaLM 2 models and demonstrate performances that are considerably stronger than standard zero-shot baselines and often comparable to or even superior to few-shot baselines across more than 40 natural language understanding, natural language generation, and reasoning tasks.