Limits for Learning with Language Models

21 Jun 2023  ·  Nicholas Asher, Swarnadeep Bhar, Akshay Chaturvedi, Julie Hunter, Soumya Paul ·

With the advent of large language models (LLMs), the trend in NLP has been to train LLMs on vast amounts of data to solve diverse language understanding and generation tasks. The list of LLM successes is long and varied. Nevertheless, several recent papers provide empirical evidence that LLMs fail to capture important aspects of linguistic meaning. Focusing on universal quantification, we provide a theoretical foundation for these empirical findings by proving that LLMs cannot learn certain fundamental semantic properties including semantic entailment and consistency as they are defined in formal semantics. More generally, we show that LLMs are unable to learn concepts beyond the first level of the Borel Hierarchy, which imposes severe limits on the ability of LMs, both large and small, to capture many aspects of linguistic meaning. This means that LLMs will continue to operate without formal guarantees on tasks that require entailments and deep linguistic understanding.

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