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Language Model Cascades: Token-Level Uncertainty And Beyond

Neha Gupta · Harikrishna Narasimhan · Wittawat Jitkrittum · Ankit Singh Rawat · Aditya Krishna Menon · Sanjiv Kumar

Halle B #91
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Wed 8 May 7:30 a.m. PDT — 9:30 a.m. PDT


Recent advances in language models (LMs) have led to significant improvements in quality on complex NLP tasks, but at the expense of increased inference costs. A simple strategy to achieve more favorable cost-quality tradeoffs is cascading: here, a small model is invoked for most “easy” instances, while a few “hard” instances are deferred to the large model. While the principles underpinning effective cascading are well-studied for classification tasks — with deferral based on predicted class uncertainty favored theoretically and practically — a similar understanding is lacking for generative LM tasks. In this work, we initiate a systematic study of deferral rules for LM cascades. We begin by examining the natural extension of predicted class uncertainty to generative LM tasks, namely, the predicted sequence uncertainty. We show that this measure suffers from the length bias problem, either over- or under-emphasizing outputs based on their lengths. This is because LMs produce a sequence of uncertainty values, one for each output token; and moreover, the number of output tokens is variable across different examples. To mitigate the length bias, we propose to exploit the richer token-level uncertainty information implicit in generative LMs. We argue that naive predicted sequence uncertainty corresponds to a simple aggregation of these uncertainties. By contrast, we show that incorporating token-level uncertainty through learned post-hoc deferral rules can significantly outperform such simple aggregation strategies, via experiments on a range of natural language benchmarks with FLAN-T5 models. We further show that incorporating embeddings from the smaller model and intermediate layers of the larger model can give an additional boost in the overall cost-quality tradeoff.

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