LV-BERT: Exploiting Layer Variety for BERT

Modern pre-trained language models are mostly built upon backbones stacking self-attention and feed-forward layers in an interleaved order. In this paper, beyond this stereotyped layer pattern, we aim to improve pre-trained models by exploiting layer variety from two aspects: the layer type set and the layer order. Specifically, besides the original self-attention and feed-forward layers, we introduce convolution into the layer type set, which is experimentally found beneficial to pre-trained models. Furthermore, beyond the original interleaved order, we explore more layer orders to discover more powerful architectures. However, the introduced layer variety leads to a large architecture space of more than billions of candidates, while training a single candidate model from scratch already requires huge computation cost, making it not affordable to search such a space by directly training large amounts of candidate models. To solve this problem, we first pre-train a supernet from which the weights of all candidate models can be inherited, and then adopt an evolutionary algorithm guided by pre-training accuracy to find the optimal architecture. Extensive experiments show that LV-BERT model obtained by our method outperforms BERT and its variants on various downstream tasks. For example, LV-BERT-small achieves 79.8 on the GLUE testing set, 1.8 higher than the strong baseline ELECTRA-small.

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