Skip to yearly menu bar Skip to main content


On the Learnability of Watermarks for Language Models

Chenchen Gu · XIANG LI · Percy Liang · Tatsunori Hashimoto

Halle B #97
[ ] [ Project Page ]
Tue 7 May 1:45 a.m. PDT — 3:45 a.m. PDT


Watermarking of language model outputs enables statistical detection of model-generated text, which can mitigate harms and misuses of language models. Existing watermarking strategies operate by altering the decoder of an existing language model. In this paper, we ask whether language models can directly learn to generate watermarked text, which would have significant implications for the real-world deployment of watermarks. First, learned watermarks could be used to build open models that naturally generate watermarked text, enabling watermarking for open models, where users can control the decoding procedure. Second, if watermarking is used to determine the provenance of generated text, an adversary can hurt the reputation of a victim model by spoofing its watermark and generating damaging watermarked text. To investigate the learnability of watermarks, we propose watermark distillation, which trains a student model to behave like a teacher model that uses decoding-based watermarking. We test our approach on three decoding-based watermarking strategies and various hyperparameter settings, finding that models can learn to generate watermarked text with high detectability. We also find limitations to learnability, including the loss of watermarking capabilities under fine-tuning on normal text and high sample complexity when learning low-distortion watermarks.

Chat is not available.