Of Non-Linearity and Commutativity in BERT

12 Jan 2021  ·  Sumu Zhao, Damian Pascual, Gino Brunner, Roger Wattenhofer ·

In this work we provide new insights into the transformer architecture, and in particular, its best-known variant, BERT. First, we propose a method to measure the degree of non-linearity of different elements of transformers. Next, we focus our investigation on the feed-forward networks (FFN) inside transformers, which contain 2/3 of the model parameters and have so far not received much attention. We find that FFNs are an inefficient yet important architectural element and that they cannot simply be replaced by attention blocks without a degradation in performance. Moreover, we study the interactions between layers in BERT and show that, while the layers exhibit some hierarchical structure, they extract features in a fuzzy manner. Our results suggest that BERT has an inductive bias towards layer commutativity, which we find is mainly due to the skip connections. This provides a justification for the strong performance of recurrent and weight-shared transformer models.

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