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Bidirectional Language Models Are Also Few-shot Learners
Ajay Patel · Bryan Li · Mohammad Rasooli · Noah Constant · Colin Raffel · Chris Callison-Burch
Large language models such as GPT-3 (Brown et al., 2020) can perform arbitrary tasks without undergoing fine-tuning after being prompted with only a few labeled examples. An arbitrary task can be reformulated as a natural language prompt, and a language model can be asked to generate the completion, indirectly performing the task in a paradigm known as prompt-based learning. To date, emergent prompt-based learning capabilities have mainly been demonstrated for unidirectional language models. However, bidirectional language models pre-trained on denoising objectives such as masked language modeling produce stronger learned representations for transfer learning. This motivates the possibility of prompting bidirectional models, but their pre-training objectives have made them largely incompatible with the existing prompting paradigm. We present SAP (Sequential Autoregressive Prompting), a technique that enables the prompting of bidirectional models. Utilizing the machine translation task as a case study, we prompt the bidirectional mT5 model (Xue et al., 2021) with SAP and demonstrate its few-shot and zero-shot translations outperform the few-shot translations of unidirectional models like GPT-3 and XGLM (Lin et al., 2021), despite mT5's approximately 50% fewer parameters. We further show SAP is effective on question answering and summarization. For the first time, our results demonstrate prompt-based learning is an emergent property of a broader class of language models, rather than only unidirectional models.