Joe O’Connor


What Context Features Can Transformer Language Models Use?
Joe O’Connor | Jacob Andreas
Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics and the 11th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (Volume 1: Long Papers)

Transformer-based language models benefit from conditioning on contexts of hundreds to thousands of previous tokens. What aspects of these contexts contribute to accurate model prediction? We describe a series of experiments that measure usable information by selectively ablating lexical and structural information in transformer language models trained on English Wikipedia. In both mid- and long-range contexts, we find that several extremely destructive context manipulations—including shuffling word order within sentences and deleting all words other than nouns—remove less than 15% of the usable information. Our results suggest that long contexts, but not their detailed syntactic and propositional content, are important for the low perplexity of current transformer language models.