Technology

A review of RAG and RAU: Advancing natural language processing with retrieval-based language models

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is an integral part of artificial intelligence and enables seamless communication between humans and computers. This interdisciplinary field includes linguistics, computer science and mathematics and facilitates automatic translation, text categorization and sentiment analysis. Traditional NLP methods such as CNN, RNN and LSTM have evolved with the Transformer architecture and large language models (LLMs) such as the GPT and BERT families, leading to significant advances in the field.

However, LLMs face challenges including hallucinations and the need for domain-specific knowledge. Researchers from East China University of Science and Technology and Peking University have studied the integrated retrieval-enhanced approaches to language models. Retrieval-Augmented Language Models (RALMs) such as Retrieval-Augmented Generation (RAG) and Retrieval-Augmented Understanding (RAU) improve NLP tasks by incorporating external information retrieval to refine the output. This has expanded their applications to translation, dialogue generation, and knowledge-intensive applications.

RALMs refine the outputs of language models using the retrieved information, categorized into sequential single interaction, sequential multiple interaction, and parallel interaction. In a sequential one-on-one interaction, retrievers identify relevant documents, which the language model then uses to predict the output. Sequential multiple interactions enable iterative refinement, while parallel interaction allows retrievers and language models to work independently and interpolate their outputs.

Retrievers play a central role in RALMs as sparse, dense, internet and hybrid retrieval methods enhance RALM capabilities. Sparse retrieval uses simpler techniques such as TF-IDF and BM25, while dense retrieval uses deep learning to improve accuracy. Internet retrieval offers a plug-and-play approach using commercial search engines, and hybrid retrieval combines different methods to maximize performance.

The language models of RALMs are categorized into autoencoder, autoregressive, and encoder-decoder models. Autoencoder models like BERT are good for comprehension tasks, while autoregressive models like the GPT family are great for natural language generation. Encoder-decoder models such as T5 and BART benefit from the parallel processing of the transformer architecture and provide versatility in NLP tasks.

Improving RALMs includes improving retrievers, language models, and the overall architecture. Retriever improvements focus on quality control and time optimization to ensure relevant documents are retrieved and used correctly. Language model improvements include pre-generation fetch processing and structural model optimization, while general RALM improvements include end-to-end training and intermediate modules.

RAG and RAU are specialized RALMs designed for natural language generation and understanding. RAG focuses on improving the generation of natural language tasks such as text summarization and machine translation, while RAU is tailored to understanding tasks such as question answering and reasoning.

The versatility of RALMs has enabled their application to various NLP tasks, including machine translation, dialog generation, and text summarization. Machine translation benefits from the improved storage capabilities of RALMs, while dialogue generation takes advantage of RALMs’ ability to generate contextually relevant responses in multi-round dialogues. These applications demonstrate the adaptability and efficiency of RALMs and extend to tasks such as code summarization, question answering, and knowledge graph completion.

In summary, RALMs, including RAG and RAU, represent a significant advance in NLP by combining external data retrieval with large language models to improve their performance on various tasks. Researchers have refined the retrieval-augmented paradigm, optimizing the interactions between the retriever and the language model, expanding the potential of RALMs for natural language generation and understanding. As NLP continues to evolve, RALMs offer promising opportunities to improve understanding of computer languages.


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Sana Hassan, Consulting Intern at Marktechpost and dual degree student at IIT Madras, is passionate about using technology and AI to address real-world challenges. With a keen interest in solving practical problems, he brings a new perspective to the interface between AI and real-world solutions.




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