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Understanding the Effects of RLHF on LLM Generalisation and Diversity

Robert Kirk · Ishita Mediratta · Christoforos Nalmpantis · Jelena Luketina · Eric Hambro · Edward Grefenstette · Roberta Raileanu

Halle B #122
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Wed 8 May 1:45 a.m. PDT — 3:45 a.m. PDT


Large language models (LLMs) fine-tuned with reinforcement learning from human feedback (RLHF) have been used in some of the most widely deployed AI models to date, such as OpenAI's ChatGPT or Anthropic's Claude. While there has been significant work developing these methods, our understanding of the benefits and downsides of each stage in RLHF is still limited. To fill this gap, we present an extensive analysis of how each stage of the process (i.e. supervised fine-tuning (SFT), reward modelling, and RLHF) affects two key properties: out-of-distribution (OOD) generalisation and output diversity. OOD generalisation is crucial given the wide range of real-world scenarios in which these models are being used, while output diversity refers to the model's ability to generate varied outputs and is important for a variety of use cases. We perform our analysis across two base models on both summarisation and instruction following tasks, the latter being highly relevant for current LLM use cases. We find that RLHF generalises better than SFT to new inputs, particularly as the distribution shift between train and test becomes larger. However, RLHF significantly reduces output diversity compared to SFT across a variety of measures, implying a tradeoff in current LLM fine-tuning methods between generalisation and diversity. Our results provide guidance on which fine-tuning method should be used depending on the application, and show that more research is needed to improve the tradeoff between generalisation and diversity.

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