Retentive or Forgetful? Diving into the Knowledge Memorizing Mechanism of Language Models

16 May 2023  ·  Boxi Cao, Qiaoyu Tang, Hongyu Lin, Xianpei Han, Jiawei Chen, Tianshu Wang, Le Sun ·

Memory is one of the most essential cognitive functions serving as a repository of world knowledge and episodes of activities. In recent years, large-scale pre-trained language models have shown remarkable memorizing ability. On the contrary, vanilla neural networks without pre-training have been long observed suffering from the catastrophic forgetting problem. To investigate such a retentive-forgetful contradiction and understand the memory mechanism of language models, we conduct thorough experiments by controlling the target knowledge types, the learning strategies and the learning schedules. We find that: 1) Vanilla language models are forgetful; 2) Pre-training leads to retentive language models; 3) Knowledge relevance and diversification significantly influence the memory formation. These conclusions are useful for understanding the abilities of pre-trained language models and shed light on designing and evaluating new learning and inference algorithms of language models.

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