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Spotlight Poster

In-Context Pretraining: Language Modeling Beyond Document Boundaries

Weijia Shi · Sewon Min · Maria Lomeli · Chunting Zhou · Margaret Li · Victoria Lin · Noah Smith · Luke Zettlemoyer · Scott Yih · Mike Lewis

Halle B #95
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Thu 9 May 1:45 a.m. PDT — 3:45 a.m. PDT


Language models are currently trained to predict tokens given document prefixes, enabling them to zero shot long form generation and prompting-style tasks which can be reduced to document completion. We instead present IN-CONTEXT PRETRAINING, a new approach where language models are trained on a sequence of related documents, thereby explicitly encouraging them to read and reason across document boundaries. Our approach builds on the fact that current pipelines train by concatenating random sets of shorter documents to create longer context windows; this improves efficiency even though the prior documents provide no signal for predicting the next document. Given this fact, we can do IN-CONTEXT PRETRAINING by simply changing the document ordering so that each context contains related documents, and directly applying existing pretraining pipelines. However, this document sorting problem is challenging. There are billions of documents and we would like the sort to maximize contextual similarity for every document without repeating any data. To do this, we introduce approximate algorithms for finding related documents with efficient nearest neighbor search and constructing coherent batches with a graph cover algorithm. Our experiments show IN-CONTEXT PRETRAINING offers a scalable and simple approach to significantly enhance LM performance: we see notable improvements in tasks that require more complex contextual reasoning, including in-context learning (+8%), reading comprehension (+15%), faithfulness to previous contexts (+16%), long-context reasoning (+5%), and retrieval augmentation (+9%).

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