Mask-Predict: Parallel Decoding of Conditional Masked Language Models

Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP)

Abstract

Most machine translation systems generate text autoregressively from left to right. We, instead, use a masked language modeling objective to train a model to predict any subset of the target words, conditioned on both the input text and a partially masked target translation. This approach allows for efficient iterative decoding, where we first predict all of the target words non-autoregressively, and then repeatedly mask out and regenerate the subset of words that the model is least confident about. By applying this strategy for a constant number of iterations, our model improves state-of-the-art performance levels for nonautoregressive and parallel decoding translation models by over 4 BLEU on average. It is also able to reach within about 1 BLEU point of a typical left-to-right transformer model, while decoding significantly faster.

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