skip to main content


Title: Measuring Inductive Biases of In-Context Learning with Underspecified Demonstrations
In-context learning (ICL) is an important paradigm for adapting large language models (LLMs) to new tasks, but the generalization behavior of ICL remains poorly understood. We investigate the inductive biases of ICL from the perspective of feature bias: which feature ICL is more likely to use given a set of underspecified demonstrations in which two features are equally predictive of the labels. First, we characterize the feature biases of GPT-3 models by constructing underspecified demonstrations from a range of NLP datasets and feature combinations. We find that LLMs exhibit clear feature biases—for example, demonstrating a strong bias to predict labels according to sentiment rather than shallow lexical features, like punctuation. Second, we evaluate the effect of different interventions that are designed to impose an inductive bias in favor of a particular feature, such as adding a natural language instruction or using semantically relevant label words. We find that, while many interventions can influence the learner to prefer a particular feature, it can be difficult to overcome strong prior biases. Overall, our results provide a broader picture of the types of features that ICL may be more likely to exploit and how to impose inductive biases that are better aligned with the intended task.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
2211779
NSF-PAR ID:
10468146
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Association for Computational Linguistics
Date Published:
Page Range / eLocation ID:
11289 to 11310
Format(s):
Medium: X
Location:
Toronto, Canada
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Recently, there has been an increase in efforts to understand how large language models (LLMs) propagate and amplify social biases. Several works have utilized templates for fairness evaluation, which allow researchers to quantify social biases in the absence of test sets with protected attribute labels. While template evaluation can be a convenient and helpful diagnostic tool to understand model deficiencies, it often uses a simplistic and limited set of templates. In this paper, we study whether bias measurements are sensitive to the choice of templates used for benchmarking. Specifically, we investigate the instability of bias measurements by manually modifying templates proposed in previous works in a semantically-preserving manner and measuring bias across these modifications. We find that bias values and resulting conclusions vary considerably across template modifications on four tasks, ranging from an 81% reduction (NLI) to a 162% increase (MLM) in (task-specific) bias measurements. Our results indicate that quantifying fairness in LLMs, as done in current practice, can be brittle and needs to be approached with more care and caution. 
    more » « less
  2. null (Ed.)
    One reason pretraining on self-supervised linguistic tasks is effective is that it teaches models features that are helpful for language understanding. However, we want pretrained models to learn not only to represent linguistic features, but also to use those features preferentially during fine-turning. With this goal in mind, we introduce a new English-language diagnostic set called MSGS (the Mixed Signals Generalization Set), which consists of 20 ambiguous binary classification tasks that we use to test whether a pretrained model prefers linguistic or surface generalizations during finetuning. We pretrain RoBERTa from scratch on quantities of data ranging from 1M to 1B words and compare their performance on MSGS to the publicly available RoBERTa_BASE. We find that models can learn to represent linguistic features with little pretraining data, but require far more data to learn to prefer linguistic generalizations over surface ones. Eventually, with about 30B words of pretraining data, RoBERTa_BASE does consistently demonstrate a linguistic bias with some regularity. We conclude that while self-supervised pretraining is an effective way to learn helpful inductive biases, there is likely room to improve the rate at which models learn which features matter. 
    more » « less
  3. We report the presence of a simple neural mechanism that represents an input- output function as a vector within autoregressive transformer language models (LMs). Using causal mediation analysis on a diverse range of in-context-learning (ICL) tasks, we find that a small number attention heads transport a compact representation of the demonstrated task, which we call a function vector (FV). FVs are robust to changes in context, i.e., they trigger execution of the task on inputs such as zero-shot and natural text settings that do not resemble the ICL contexts from which they are collected. We test FVs across a range of tasks, models, and layers and find strong causal effects across settings in middle layers. We investigate the internal structure of FVs and find while that they often contain information that encodes the output space of the function, this information alone is not sufficient to reconstruct an FV. Finally, we test semantic vector composition in FVs, and find that to some extent they can be summed to create vectors that trigger new complex tasks. Our findings show that compact, causal internal vector representations of function abstractions can be explicitly extracted from LLMs. 
    more » « less
  4. Much recent work in NLP has documented dataset artifacts, bias, and spurious correlations between input features and output labels. However, how to tell which features have “spurious” instead of legitimate correlations is typically left unspecified. In this work we argue that for complex language understanding tasks, all simple feature correlations are spurious, and we formalize this notion into a class of problems which we call competency problems. For example, the word “amazing” on its own should not give information about a sentiment label independent of the context in which it appears, which could include negation, metaphor, sarcasm, etc. We theoretically analyze the difficulty of creating data for competency problems when human bias is taken into account, showing that realistic datasets will increasingly deviate from competency problems as dataset size increases. This analysis gives us a simple statistical test for dataset artifacts, which we use to show more subtle biases than were described in prior work, including demonstrating that models are inappropriately affected by these less extreme biases. Our theoretical treatment of this problem also allows us to analyze proposed solutions, such as making local edits to dataset instances, and to give recommendations for future data collection and model design efforts that target competency problems. 
    more » « less
  5. TypeScript is a widely used optionally-typed language where developers can adopt “pay as you go” typing: they can add types as desired, and benefit from static typing. The “type annotation tax” or manual effort required to annotate new or existing TypeScript can be reduced by a variety of automatic methods. Probabilistic machine-learning (ML) approaches work quite well. ML approaches use different inductive biases, ranging from simple token sequences to complex graphical neural network (GNN) models capturing syntax and semantic relations. More sophisticated inductive biases are hand-engineered to exploit the formal nature of software. Rather than deploying fancy inductive biases for code, can we just use “big data” to learn natural patterns relevant to typing? We find evidence suggesting that this is the case. We present TypeBert, demonstrating that even with simple token-sequence inductive bias used in BERT-style models and enough data, type-annotation performance of the most sophisticated models can be surpassed. 
    more » « less