Abstract: We consider language modelling (LM) as a multi-label structured prediction task by re-framing training from solely predicting a single ground-truth word to ranking a set of words which could continue a given context. To avoid annotating top-k ranks, we generate them using pre-trained LMs: GPT-2, BERT, and Born-Again models. This leads to a rank-based form of knowledge distillation (KD). We also develop a method using $N$-grams to create a non-probabilistic teacher which generates the ranks without the need of a pre-trained LM.

We confirm the hypotheses: that we can treat LMing as a ranking task and that we can do so without the use of a pre-trained LM.

We show that rank-based KD generally gives a modest improvement to perplexity (PPL) -- though often with statistical significance -- when compared to Kullback–Leibler-based KD. Surprisingly, given the naivety of the method, the $N$-grams act as competitive teachers and achieve similar performance as using either BERT or a Born-Again model teachers. Unsurprisingly, GPT-2 always acts as the best teacher.

Using it and a Transformer-XL student on Wiki-02, rank-based KD reduces a cross-entropy baseline from 65.27 to 55.94 and against a KL-based KD of 56.70.

Introduction Video

Sessions where this paper appears

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  • Poster Session 8

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  • Oral Session 8

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