RoBERTa: An optimized method for pretraining self-supervised NLP systems

July 29, 2019

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What the research is:

A robustly optimized method for pretraining natural language processing (NLP) systems that improves on Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, or BERT, the self-supervised method released by Google in 2018. BERT is a revolutionary technique that achieved state-of-the-art results on a range of NLP tasks while relying on unannotated text drawn from the web, as opposed to a language corpus that’s been labeled specifically for a given task. The technique has since become popular both as an NLP research baseline and as a final task architecture. BERT also highlights the collaborative nature of AI research — thanks to Google’s open release, we were able to conduct a replication study of BERT, revealing opportunities to improve its performance. Our optimized method, RoBERTa, produces state-of-the-art results on the widely used NLP benchmark, General Language Understanding Evaluation (GLUE).

In addition to a paper detailing those results, we’re releasing the models and code that we used to demonstrate our approach’s effectiveness.

How it works:

RoBERTa builds on BERT’s language masking strategy, wherein the system learns to predict intentionally hidden sections of text within otherwise unannotated language examples. RoBERTa, which was implemented in PyTorch, modifies key hyperparameters in BERT, including removing BERT’s next-sentence pretraining objective, and training with much larger mini-batches and learning rates. This allows RoBERTa to improve on the masked language modeling objective compared with BERT and leads to better downstream task performance. We also explore training RoBERTa on an order of magnitude more data than BERT, for a longer amount of time. We used existing unannotated NLP data sets as well as CC-News, a novel set drawn from public news articles.

After implementing these design changes, our model delivered state-of-the-art performance on the MNLI, QNLI, RTE, STS-B, and RACE tasks and a sizable performance improvement on the GLUE benchmark. With a score of 88.5, RoBERTa reached the top position on the GLUE leaderboard, matching the performance of the previous leader, XLNet-Large. These results highlight the importance of previously unexplored design choices in BERT training and help disentangle the relative contributions of data size, training time, and pretraining objectives.

Why it matters:

Our results show that tuning the BERT training procedure can significantly improve its performance on a variety of NLP tasks while also indicating that this overall approach remains competitive with alternative approaches. More broadly, this research further demonstrates the potential for self-supervised training techniques to match or exceed the performance of more traditional, supervised approaches. RoBERTa is part of Facebook’s ongoing commitment to advancing the state-of-the-art in self-supervised systems that can be developed with less reliance on time- and resource-intensive data labeling. We look forward to seeing what the wider community does with the model and code for RoBERTa.

Read the full paper:

RoBERTa: A robustly optimized BERT pretraining approach