Funnel-Transformer: Filtering out Sequential Redundancy for Efficient Language Processing

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Zihang Dai, Guokun Lai, Yiming Yang, Quoc Le


With the success of language pretraining, it is highly desirable to develop more efficient architectures of good scalability that can exploit the abundant unlabeled data at a lower cost. To improve the efficiency, we examine the much-overlooked redundancy in maintaining a full-length token-level presentation, especially for tasks that only require a single-vector presentation of the sequence. With this intuition, we propose Funnel-Transformer which gradually compresses the sequence of hidden states to a shorter one and hence reduces the computation cost. More importantly, by re-investing the saved FLOPs from length reduction in constructing a deeper or wider model, we further improve the model capacity. In addition, to perform token-level predictions as required by common pretraining objectives, Funnel-Transformer is able to recover a deep representation for each token from the reduced hidden sequence via a decoder. Empirically, with comparable or fewer FLOPs, Funnel-Transformer outperforms the standard Transformer on a wide variety of sequence-level prediction tasks, including text classification, language understanding, and reading comprehension.