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Contributed Talk
Workshop: 5th Workshop on practical ML for limited/low resource settings (PML4LRS) @ ICLR 2024

Variance-reduced Zeroth-Order Methods for Fine-Tuning Language Models

Tanmay Gautam

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Sat 11 May 7:45 a.m. PDT — 7:55 a.m. PDT


Fine-tuning language models (LMs) has demonstrated success in a wide array of downstream tasks. However, as LMs are scaled up, the memory requirements for backpropagation become prohibitively high. Zeroth-order (ZO) optimization methods can leverage memory-efficient forward passes to estimate gradients. More recently, MeZO, an adaptation of ZO-SGD, has been shown to consistently outperform zero-shot and in-context learning when combined with suitable task prompts. In this work, we couple ZO methods with variance reduction techniques to enhance stability and convergence for inference-based LM fine-tuning. We introduce Memory-Efficient Zeroth-Order Stochastic Variance-Reduced Gradient (MeZO-SVRG) and demonstrate its efficacy across multiple LM fine-tuning tasks, eliminating the reliance on task-specific prompts. Evaluated across a range of both masked and autoregressive LMs on benchmark GLUE tasks, MeZO-SVRG outperforms MeZO with up to 20% increase in test accuracies in both full- and partial-parameter fine-tuning settings. MeZO-SVRG benefits from reduced computation time as it often surpasses MeZO's peak test accuracy with a reduction in GPU-hours. MeZO-SVRG significantly reduces the required memory footprint compared to first-order SGD, i.e. by for autoregressive models. Our experiments highlight that MeZO-SVRG's memory savings progressively improve compared to SGD with larger batch sizes.

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