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FNet: Mixing Tokens with Fourier Transforms

Ilya Eckstein
James Patrick Lee-Thorp
Joshua Ainslie
NAACL 2022 (Association for Computational Linguistics)


We show that Transformer encoder architectures can be massively sped up, with limited accuracy costs, by replacing the self-attention sublayers with simple linear transformations that "mix" input tokens. These linear transformations, along with standard nonlinearities in feed-forward layers, prove competent at modeling semantic relationships in several text classification tasks. Most surprisingly, we find that replacing the self-attention sublayer in a Transformer encoder with a standard, unparameterized Fourier Transform achieves 92-97% of the accuracy of BERT counterparts on the GLUE benchmark, but trains nearly seven times faster on GPUs and twice as fast on TPUs. The resulting model, FNet, also scales very efficiently to long inputs. Specifically, when compared to the "efficient" Transformers on the Long Range Arena benchmark, FNet matches the accuracy of the most accurate models, but is faster than the fastest models across all sequence lengths on GPUs (and across relatively shorter lengths on TPUs). Finally, FNet has a light memory footprint and is particularly efficient at smaller model sizes: for a fixed speed and accuracy budget, small FNet models outperform Transformer counterparts.

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