Epsilon Sampling Rocks: Investigating Sampling Strategies for Minimum Bayes Risk Decoding for Machine Translation

Behrooz Ghorbani
Patrick Fernandes
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2023, Association for Computational Linguistics, Singapore, pp. 9198-9209


Recent advances in machine translation (MT) have shown that Minimum Bayes Risk (MBR) decoding can be a powerful alternative to beam search decoding, especially when combined with neural-based utility functions. However, the performance of MBR decoding depends heavily on how and how many candidates are sampled from the model. In this paper, we explore how different sampling approaches for generating candidate lists for MBR decoding affect performance. We evaluate popular sampling approaches, such as ancestral, nucleus, and top-k sampling. Based on our insights into their limitations, we experiment with the recently proposed epsilon-sampling approach, which prunes away all tokens with a probability smaller than epsilon, ensuring that each token in a sample receives a fair probability mass. Through extensive human evaluations, we demonstrate that MBR decoding based on epsilon-sampling significantly outperforms not only beam search decoding, but also MBR decoding with all other tested sampling methods across four language pairs.