LeTI: Learning to Generate from Textual Interactions

May, 2023


Finetuning pre-trained language models (LMs) enhances the models' capabilities. Prior techniques fine-tune a pre-trained LM on input-output pairs (e.g., instruction fine-tuning), or with numerical rewards that gauge the quality of its outputs (e.g., reinforcement learning from human feedback). We explore LMs' potential to learn from textual interactions (LeTI) that not only check their correctness with binary labels, but also pinpoint and explain errors in their outputs through textual feedback. Our investigation focuses on the code generation task, where the model produces code pieces in response to natural language instructions. This setting invites a natural and scalable way to acquire the textual feedback: the error messages and stack traces from code execution using a Python interpreter. LeTI iteratively fine-tunes the model, using the LM objective, on a concatenation of natural language instructions, LM-generated programs, and textual feedback, which is only provided when the generated program fails to solve the task. Prepended to this fine-tuning text, a binary reward token is used to differentiate correct and buggy solutions. On MBPP, a code generation dataset, LeTI substantially improves the performance of two base LMs of different scales. LeTI requires no ground-truth outputs for training and even outperforms a fine-tuned baseline that does. LeTI's strong performance generalizes to other datasets. Trained on MBPP, it achieves comparable or better performance than the base LMs on unseen problems in HumanEval. Furthermore, compared to binary feedback, we observe that textual feedback leads to improved generation quality and sample efficiency, achieving the same performance with fewer than half of the gradient steps. LeTI is equally applicable in natural language tasks when they can be formulated as code generation, which we empirically verified on event argument extraction.

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