Workshop: Information-Theoretic Methods for Rigorous, Responsible, and Reliable Machine Learning (ITR3)
True Few-Shot Learning with Language Models
Ethan Perez · Douwe Kiela · Kyunghyun Cho
Pretrained language models (LMs) perform well on many tasks even when learning from a few examples, but prior work uses many held-out examples to tune various aspects of learning, such as hyperparameters, training objectives, and natural language templates ("prompts"). Here, we evaluate the few-shot ability of LMs when such held-out examples are unavailable, a setting we call true few-shot learning. We test two model selection criteria, cross-validation and minimum description length, for choosing LM prompts and hyperparameters in the true few-shot setting. On average, both marginally outperform random selection and greatly underperform selection based on held-out examples. Moreover, selection criteria often prefer models that perform significantly worse than randomly-selected ones. We find similar results even when varying number of examples used for selection, the amount of computation, and the selection criterion itself. Overall, our findings suggest that prior work significantly overestimated the true few-shot ability of LMs given the difficulty of few-shot model selection.