Task-Specific Skill Localization in Fine-tuned Language Models

Published at International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML), 2023

Pre-trained language models can be fine-tuned to solve diverse NLP tasks, including in few-shot settings. Thus fine-tuning allows the model to quickly pick up task-specific “skills,” but there has been limited study of where these newly-learnt skills reside inside the massive model. This paper introduces the term skill localization for this problem and proposes a solution. Given the downstream task and a model fine-tuned on that task, a simple optimization is used to identify a very small subset of parameters (∼ 0.01% of model parameters) responsible for (> 95%) of the model’s performance, in the sense that grafting the fine-tuned values for just this tiny subset onto the pre-trained model gives performance almost as well as the fine-tuned model. While reminiscent of recent works on parameter-efficient fine-tuning, the novel aspects here are that: (i) No further re-training is needed on the subset (unlike, say, with lottery tickets). (ii) Notable improvements are seen over vanilla finetuning with respect to calibration of predictions in-distribution (40-90% error reduction) as well as the quality of predictions out-of-distribution (OOD). In models trained on multiple tasks, a stronger notion of skill localization is observed, where the sparse regions corresponding to different tasks are almost disjoint, and their overlap (when it happens) is a proxy for task similarity. Experiments suggest that localization via grafting can assist certain forms of continual learning.