Google Research

Low-Rank Bottleneck in Multi-head Attention Models

International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML) 2020


Attention based Transformer architecture has enabled significant advances in the field of natural language processing. In addition to new pre-training techniques, recent improvements crucially rely on working with a relatively larger embedding dimension for tokens. Unfortunately, this leads to models that are prohibitively large to be employed in the downstream tasks. In this paper we identify one of the important factors contributing to the large embedding size requirement. In particular, our analysis highlights that the scaling between the number of heads and the size of each head in the current architecture gives rise to a low-rank bottleneck in attention heads, causing this limitation, which we further validate with our experiments. As a solution we propose to set the head size of an attention unit to input sequence length, and independent of the number of heads, resulting in multi-head attention layers with provably more expressive power. We empirically show that this allows us to train models with a relatively smaller embedding dimension and with better performance scaling.

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