Google Research

Beyond the Imitation Game: Quantifying and extrapolating the capabilities of language models

Abstract

Language models demonstrate both quantitative improvement and new qualitative capabilities with increasing scale. Despite their potentially transformative impact, these new capabilities are as yet poorly characterized. In order to direct future research, prepare for disruptive new model capabilities, and ameliorate socially harmful effects, it is vital that we understand the present and near-future capabilities and limitations of language models.

To address this challenge, we introduce the Beyond the Imitation Game benchmark (BIG-bench). BIG-bench consists of 207 tasks, contributed by over 400 authors across 132 institutions. Task topics are diverse, drawing problems from linguistics, childhood development, math, common sense reasoning, biology, physics, social bias, software development, and beyond. BIG-bench focuses on capabilities that are believed to be beyond current language models. We evaluate the behavior of OpenAI's GPT models, Google-internal dense transformer architectures, and Switch-style sparse transformers on BIG-bench, across model sizes spanning millions to hundreds of billions of parameters. A team of human experts further performed all tasks, to provide a strong baseline. Findings include: model performance and calibration both improve with scale, but are poor in absolute terms (and when compared with human performance); model performance is remarkably similar across model classes; tasks that improve gradually and predictably commonly involve a large knowledge or memorization component, whereas tasks that exhibit ``breakthrough'' behavior at a critical scale often involve a significant reasoning or algorithmic component; social bias typically increases with scale in settings with ambiguous context, but this can be improved with prompting.

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