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How to train your own NLP model transformers

Posted by Shuai Yuan

NLP model transformers

How to train your own NLP model transformers

In recent years, search engines have led the way in natural language processing (NLP) and the benefits it stands to bring across business landscapes. Focused around machine learning capabilities, applications like Google’s BERT work to process natural language without human input. Used right, such systems can remove redundant work processes for faster and more efficient handling, analysis, and translation of written or spoken input from various sources. 

Admittedly, language processing as a concept is nothing new. A simple spell checker is an example of this technology, as is the autofill keyword function that search engines have been using for years. At its core, NLPs are simply trained to recognise and categorise sequences of words. But, as our top search engines are now realising, utilising this tech for language understanding on a broader scale is fundamental for success in the ever-changing machine learning landscape. 

Household staples like Siri and Alexa are both prime examples of what success here can look like. During the heyday of their adoption, usage of such smart technologies increased by around 98.6% in 2017 alone. But, even basic voice search commands are no longer enough to keep you on top. Advanced NLP models are now paired with transformers to deliver improved outcomes and increased accuracy. 

What, however, is an NLP transformer, and how can you go about training your own? Answering this question is critical to your future in NLP. For the most part, understanding the concept and building a system with the right data is critical here. And, we’re going to look at how you can do just that.   


The basics of NLP transformers

Standard sequence to sequence NLP models were first introduced in 2014 and were further enabled by the Attention Mechanism a year later, making them ideal for basic speech recognition and machine translation applications. 

Long-range dependencies can prove problematic though, and sequence-to-sequence parallelisation isn’t always possible either. 

That’s where the transformer trained model comes into play. Introduced in Google’s 2017 ‘Attention is all you Need’ paper, these applications aim to solve the setbacks inherent with sequential NLP focuses. A transduction model designed with attention mechanisms and feed-forward neural networks at the helm, transformers are certainly shaping long-range use cases. 

These feed forward layers incorporate complex deciphering processes through self-attention, and, most importantly, encoder-decoder attention. These both work together to accurately relate the different positions of a single sequence for overarching understanding of said sequence in relation to everything surrounding it. In turn, that leads to reliable outcomes and the correct comprehension of any input an NLP has been trained to read.

This is where transformers really come into their own for next-level NLP usage across the business board. And, it’s why a trained transformer model could prove invaluable for your company’s development.

Practical AI Guide

Making sense of model creation

Now you understand the benefits, it’s time to consider how you can develop a trained NLP model in the first place. The tech might have seemed straightforward until now, but you’ll soon see that implementation is an entirely different matter. 

Effectively, NLP modelling is the process of recreating the human behaviour inherent to your system and its success. This alone is the most fundamental aspect of your approach here, and everything ultimately comes down to your ability to both observe and test as you move forward. Effectively, your model will aim to recreate the processes, human or otherwise, on which you’re basing your efforts here.

First, you, of course, need to understand what it is that you’re attempting to achieve. Improving performance is typically the most common contributor to NLP focuses, but you may also aim to understand clients better, or even change processes inherent in your business. Settling on your ultimate focus here (i.e., defining business-related evaluation metrics clearly) early in the training process is fundamental for collecting the datasets you need to build the entire pipeline. At this stage, think of yourself as an architect. You’re putting the building blocks in place to keep your NLP structure secure.

With the basics out the way, you’ll also need to focus on transformer-specific efforts, including the three-part key vector creation for the improved self-attention mentioned above. Only possible once your general model is already in place, this essential focus on multiplying and embedding the metrics you introduce during the development process is really what will lead to real results.

Obviously, your vectors themselves may vary and change as your model does, but tackling this during the training stages at least allows you to release your functioning, transformer-led NLP application into the world. 

Do note that, if all this proves too much at a time when you’re trying to simplify processes, there are plenty of pre-trained models on the market, including Google’s BERT. While these models do have the significant downside of being tailored by another business’s architecture, using them as a guide could still prove incredibly useful. Simply seek pre-trained options that at least fit your goals in some sense, and perhaps use these as a sounding board for your own training processes later on. 


Data deserves its place at the heart of everything

Data tends to be at the heart of every AI or ML application, and NLP is no exception. In fact, as you may have discovered from the above training pointers, information input and datasets are critical to successful implementation of any kind here. Ultimately, the data you use in the early stages is what will allow you to custom train your model, supply labelled examples of inputs, and eventually guarantee the language processing that will ensure this machine learning integration is successful out in the real world. 

As touched on above, settling on the reasons for your NLP usage can help you to determine the necessary data that you need to get started here, but you should also ensure that you’re pulling from a ‘good’ data set before you can guarantee the processes that we’ve discussed in this article. The higher your data quality, after all, the better chance you have of training this ML application to learn necessary relationships between inputs and outputs moving forward.

This ‘training’ data will provide the most comprehensive possible model for usage across your business in the future. The question is, how exactly do you source the best metrics for your training needs? 

Fundamentally, this comes down to a few key focuses, including: 

  • Representation
  • Diversity
  • Balance

Remember that the data your model sees through the training process will ultimately dictate the parameters and standards that it reverts to during actual usage. The more comprehensive and valid that data is, the better chance you have of arriving at a finished product that does as you intend. 

Initial training data aside, success during this aspect of your process also relies on something called a ‘validation set’ or ‘dev.’ Also used during the training process, these datasets come into play after the initial implementation of training data to set the variables of your model’s structure. Again, quality matters here while this process works to ensure that your model can generalise information without focusing too much on that training data, which could end up hindering rather than helping development overall. This will be the final step in creating a model that works the way you always intended. 


Transformers are changing NLP, but you don’t have to do everything yourself

There’s a lot to consider here. But, the training of NLP transformers needn’t be the setback, or even a challenge. In fact, tackling the topic with these pointers in mind could see this goal well within your reach, after all. And once you’ve gotten a handle of the upgrade, any change becomes a competitive advantage. 

It’s worth noting, too, that there are now countless ways to make this process easier for yourself to start with and moving forward. As touched on above, pre-trained NLP models are a fantastic example of how you can get started right off the ground. Equally, the implementation of an API can simplify deployments like these to no end, as can machine learning as a service (MLaaS) when used across the cloud. Remember, too, that bringing outside AI consultants into your training processes can work wonders for the best business-focused results without drastically increasing your workloads. Even better, trained consultants can turn their expertise to your unique machine learning processes while always assessing that all-important quality data, which is a benefit you would struggle to find any other way.

However you go about it, one thing’s sure; NLP model transformers are the next big machine learning focus, and you need to get training sooner rather than later if you’re to keep on top of the trend. 

For more information on how to expand and optimise your AI capabilities, check out our free Practical Guide to AI. 

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Shuai Yuan
Shuai Yuan
VP, Data Science

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How to train your own NLP model transformers

In recent years, search engines have led the way in natural language processing (NLP) and the benefits it stands to bring across business landscapes. Focused around machine learning capabilities, applications like Google’s BERT work to process natural language without human input. Used right, such systems can remove redundant work processes for faster and more efficient handling, analysis, and translation of written or spoken input from various sources.