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Improving Transformer Optimization Through Better Initialization

Xiao Shi Huang · Felipe Perez · Jimmy Ba · Maksims Volkovs


Keywords: [ Deep Sequence Models ] [ Optimization ] [ Natural Language Processing / Dialogue ] [ Sequential, Network, and Time-Series Modeling ]


The Transformer architecture has achieved considerable success recently; the key component of the Transformer is the attention layer that enables the model to focus on important regions within an input sequence. Gradient optimization with attention layers can be notoriously difficult requiring tricks such as learning rate warmup to prevent divergence. As Transformer models are becoming larger and more expensive to train, recent research has focused on understanding and improving optimization in these architectures. In this work our contributions are two-fold: we first investigate and empirically validate the source of optimization problems in the encoder-decoder Transformer architecture; we then propose a new weight initialization scheme with theoretical justification, that enables training without warmup or layer normalization. Empirical results on public machine translation benchmarks show that our approach achieves leading accuracy, allowing to train deep Transformer models with 200 layers in both encoder and decoder (over 1000 attention/MLP blocks) without difficulty. Code for this work is available here:~\url{}.

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