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.
Tokenization is a fundamental preprocessing step for almost all NLP tasks. In this paper, we propose efficient algorithms for the WordPiece tokenization used in BERT, from single-word tokenization to general text (e.g., sentence) tokenization. When tokenizing a single word, WordPiece uses a longest-match-first strategy, known as maximum matching. The best known algorithms so far are O(nˆ2) (where n is the input length) or O(nm) (where m is the maximum vocabulary token length). We propose a novel algorithm whose tokenization complexity is strictly O(n). Our method is inspired by the Aho-Corasick algorithm. We introduce additional linkages on top of the trie built from the vocabulary, allowing smart transitions when the trie matching cannot continue. For general text, we further propose an algorithm that combines pre-tokenization (splitting the text into words) and our linear-time WordPiece method into a single pass. Experimental results show that our method is 8.2x faster than HuggingFace Tokenizers and 5.1x faster than TensorFlow Text on average for general text tokenization.