Convexifying Transformers: Improving optimization and understanding of transformer networks


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Understanding the fundamental mechanism behind the success of transformer networks is still an open problem in the deep learning literature. Although their remarkable performance has been mostly attributed to the self-attention mechanism, the literature still lacks a solid analysis of these networks and interpretation of the functions learned by them. To this end, we study the training problem of attention/transformer networks and introduce a novel convex analytic approach to improve the understanding and optimization of these networks. Particularly, we first introduce a convex alternative to the self-attention mechanism and reformulate the regularized training problem of transformer networks with our alternative convex attention. Then, we cast the reformulation as a convex optimization problem that is interpretable and easier to optimize. Moreover, as a byproduct of our convex analysis, we reveal an implicit regularization mechanism, which promotes sparsity across tokens. Therefore, we not only improve the optimization of attention/transformer networks but also provide a solid theoretical understanding of the functions learned by them. We also demonstrate the effectiveness of our theory through several numerical experiments.
Convex optimization,transformers,attention,self-attention,group sparsity
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