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An Emulator for Fine-tuning Large Language Models using Small Language Models

Eric Mitchell · Rafael Rafailov · Archit Sharma · Chelsea Finn · Christopher Manning

Halle B #245
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Wed 8 May 7:30 a.m. PDT — 9:30 a.m. PDT


Widely used language models (LMs) are typically built by scaling up a two-stage training pipeline: a pre-training stage that uses a very large, diverse dataset of text and a fine-tuning (sometimes, 'alignment') stage that uses targeted examples or other specifications of desired behaviors. While it has been hypothesized that knowledge and skills come from pre-training, and fine-tuning mostly filters this knowledge and skillset, this intuition has not been extensively tested. To aid in doing so, we introduce a novel technique for decoupling the knowledge and skills gained in these two stages, enabling a direct answer to the question, What would happen if we combined the knowledge learned by a large model during pre-training with the knowledge learned by a small model during fine-tuning (or vice versa)? Using an RL-based framework derived from recent developments in learning from human preferences, we introduce emulated fine-tuning (EFT), a principled and practical method for sampling from a distribution that approximates (or 'emulates') the result of pre-training and fine-tuning at different scales. Our experiments with EFT show that scaling up fine-tuning tends to improve helpfulness, while scaling up pre-training tends to improve factuality. Beyond decoupling scale, we show that EFT enables test-time adjustment of competing behavioral traits like helpfulness and harmlessness without additional training. Finally, a special case of emulated fine-tuning, which we call LM up-scaling, avoids resource-intensive fine-tuning of large pre-trained models by ensembling them with small fine-tuned models, essentially emulating the result of fine-tuning the large pre-trained model. Up-scaling consistently improves helpfulness and factuality of instruction-following models in the Llama, Llama-2, and Falcon families, without additional hyperparameters or training. For reference implementation, see

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