It is a common belief that training deep transformers from scratch requires large datasets. Consequently, for small datasets, people usually use shallow and simple additional layers on top of pre-trained models during fine-tuning. This work shows that this does not always need to be the case: with proper initialization and optimization, the benefits of very deep transformers can carry over to challenging tasks with small datasets, including Text-to-SQL semantic parsing and logical reading comprehension. In particular, we successfully train 48 layers of transformers, comprising 24 fine-tuned layers from pre-trained RoBERTa and 24 relation-aware layers trained from scratch. With fewer training steps and no task-specific pre-training, we obtain the state-of-the-art performance on the challenging cross-domain Text-to-SQL parsing benchmark Spider. We achieve this by deriving a novel Data-dependent Transformer Fixed-update initialization scheme (DT-Fixup), inspired by the prior T-Fixup work. Further error analysis shows that increasing depth can help improve generalization on small datasets for hard cases that require reasoning and structural understanding.

Authors
BibTeX

@inproceedings{xu-etal-2021-optimizing,
    title = "Optimizing Deeper Transformers on Small Datasets",
    author = "Xu, Peng  and
      Kumar, Dhruv  and
      Yang, Wei  and
      Zi, Wenjie  and
      Tang, Keyi  and
      Huang, Chenyang  and
      Cheung, Jackie Chi Kit  and
      Prince, Simon J.D.  and
      Cao, Yanshuai",
    booktitle = "Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics and the 11th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (Volume 1: Long Papers)",
    month = aug,
    year = "2021",
    address = "Online",
    publisher = "Association for Computational Linguistics",
    url = "https://aclanthology.org/2021.acl-long.163",
    doi = "10.18653/v1/2021.acl-long.163",
    pages = "2089--2102",
    abstract = "It is a common belief that training deep transformers from scratch requires large datasets. Consequently, for small datasets, people usually use shallow and simple additional layers on top of pre-trained models during fine-tuning. This work shows that this does not always need to be the case: with proper initialization and optimization, the benefits of very deep transformers can carry over to challenging tasks with small datasets, including Text-to-SQL semantic parsing and logical reading comprehension. In particular, we successfully train 48 layers of transformers, comprising 24 fine-tuned layers from pre-trained RoBERTa and 24 relation-aware layers trained from scratch. With fewer training steps and no task-specific pre-training, we obtain the state of the art performance on the challenging cross-domain Text-to-SQL parsing benchmark Spider. We achieve this by deriving a novel Data dependent Transformer Fixed-update initialization scheme (DT-Fixup), inspired by the prior T-Fixup work. Further error analysis shows that increasing depth can help improve generalization on small datasets for hard cases that require reasoning and structural understanding.",
}