Competence-based Curriculum Learning for Neural Machine Translation

ACL 2019

Abstract: Current state-of-the-art NMT systems use large neural networks that are not only slow to train, but also often require many heuristics and optimization tricks, such as specialized learning rate schedules and large batch sizes. This is undesirable as it requires extensive hyperparameter tuning. In this paper, we propose a curriculum learning framework for NMT that reduces training time, reduces the need for specialized heuristics or large batch sizes, and results in overall better performance. Our framework consists of a principled way of deciding which training samples are shown to the model at different times during training, based on the estimated difficulty of a sample and the current competence of the model. Filtering training samples in this manner prevents the model from getting stuck in bad local optima, making it converge faster and reach a better solution than the common approach of uniformly sampling training examples. Furthermore, the proposed method can be easily applied to existing NMT models by simply modifying their input data pipelines. We show that our framework can help improve the training time and the performance of both recurrent neural network models and Transformers, achieving up to a 70% decrease in training time, while at the same time obtaining accuracy improvements of up to 2.2 BLEU. Authors: Emmanouil Antonios Platanios, Otilia Stretcu, Graham Neubig, Barnabas Poczos, Tom M. Mitchell (Carnegie Mellon University)