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Sparse Attention with Learning to Hash

Zhiqing Sun · Yiming Yang · Shinjae Yoo

Keywords: [ transformer ] [ natural language processing ]


Transformer has become ubiquitous in sequence modeling tasks. As a key component of Transformer, self-attention does not scale to long sequences due to its quadratic time and space complexity with respect to the sequence length. To tackle this problem, recent work developed dynamic attention sparsification techniques based on Approximate Nearest Neighbor (ANN) methods, where similar queries and keys are allocated to the same hash bucket with high probability. However, the effectiveness of those ANN methods relies on the assumption that queries and keys should lie in the same space, which is not well justified. Besides, some of the ANN methods such as Locality-Sensitive Hashing (LSH) are randomized and cannot fully utilize the available real data distributions. To overcome these issues, this paper proposes a new strategy for sparse attention, namely LHA (Learning-to-Hash Attention), which directly learns separate parameterized hash functions for queries and keys, respectively. Another advantage of LHA is that it does not impose extra constraints for queries and keys, which makes it applicable to the wide range of pre-trained Transformer models. Our experiments on evaluation of the WikiText-103 dataset for language modeling, the GLUE benchmark for natural language understanding, and the Lang-Range-Arena benchmark for multiple tasks (text/image classification, retrieval, etc.) show the superior performance of LHA over other strong Transformer variants.

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