Learning the Transformer Neural Network Model for Natural Language Processing (NLP)

In the realm of deep learning and neural networks, the Transformer model has emerged as a highly sought-after approach for natural language processing. It has proved to be highly beneficial for Google, enabling them to enhance the accuracy of their search engine results significantly.

Since its launch in 2017, the Transformer architecture has been widely adopted in various fields of study, making it an increasingly popular deep learning model. Among its most efficient applications is time series forecasting, where its efficacy has been significantly pronounced.

Researchers are consistently exploring novel applications of Transformers and devising creative ways to leverage their capabilities. In this summary, we will explore the intriguing characteristics of Transformers and offer a comprehensive definition of the Transformer model.

An Overview of the Transformer Model

Transformers are a kind AI model that employs attention or self-attention techniques to analyze data successively and obtain knowledge and comprehension. Researchers utilize these innovative and constantly evolving mathematical techniques to create these models. This method of data collection is critical in determining the extent of interconnectivity between data points and their dependencies on each other.

Google released a research paper in 2017 that showcased the utilization of Transformers as one of the most sophisticated models created to date. Since then, the integration of Transformer AI in the field of Machine Learning has experienced a notable upsurge in development.

An August 2021 report revealed that researchers from Stanford University have recognized Transformer-based models as “foundational models” for their work in the AI field. This report demonstrates the growing significance of Transformer-based models in AI development since researchers are now depending on them as the essential building blocks for their research.

Over the past few years, there has been a significant rise in the size and intricacy of foundational models, a phenomenon that has not gone unnoticed by researchers. They have remarked that the exponential growth in the scope and magnitude of these models has opened up new realms of possibility, giving us an expansive vision of what can now be accomplished.

Overview of Transformer Model Architecture

Transformers share similarities with the encoder-decoder architecture of recurrent neural networks (RNNs), owing to their attention mechanism. This means that transformers can carry out sequence-to-sequence (seq2seq) operations while eliminating the necessity for a sequential component.

Compared to an RNN, transformers can be trained faster since they can analyze inputs in parallel.

This diagram illustrates the basic configuration of the Transformer deep learning model, which includes two key components:

  • The encoder stacks comprises of Nx layers of identical encoders (the original publication utilized Nx = 6).
  • Identical decoder layers, or “decoder stacks” (the original work used Nx = 6).

Since the models did not involve recurrent neural networks or convolutions, positional encoding was integrated between the encoder and decoder stacks to exploit the inherent sequence order.

Transformer Encoder

The encoder is structured in N levels, each of which comprises of two sublayers. The first sublayer produces self-attention using a multi-head process.

Studies have shown that multi-head mechanisms can concurrently generate h distinct outputs through linear projections of queries, keys, and values to produce a unified final output.

In the second layer of our model, a fully connected feed-forward neural network is applied which includes Rectified Linear Units (ReLUs) for activation. This layer comprises of two linear transformations.

The Transformer encoder is equipped with six levels that process each word in the input sequence in sequence. While weight parameters (W1, W2) and bias parameters (b1, b2) are unique to each layer, they are shared across layers.

In addition, each of the sublayers is protected by a residual connection. To maintain consistency in the total computation between the input of the sublayer (X) and the sublayer’s output, a normalization layer (layernorm(.)) is included with each sublayer.

As the Transformer deep learning model doesn’t involve recurrence, it cannot independently determine the positioning of words within a sentence.

Positional encoding has been integrated into the embeddings through the utilization of sine and cosine functions of diverse frequencies to construct positional encoding vectors with dimensions that match the input embeddings. Afterward, positional information is infused by adding the output embeddings to the input embeddings.

Transformer Decoder

Encoder and decoder functions share several similarities. In a decoder, each of the N=6 functional levels is separated into three sublayers.

  • In the first sublayer of the decoder stack, previous output is received, which is then utilized for providing positional data and performing self-attention on all the heads.

Unlike encoders that concentrate on individual words disregarding the context of surrounding words, decoders are sensitive to the context of previous words. As a result, predicting the word at position I requires accurate information on the words that come before it.

The value obtained by scaling the quantities Q and K are concealed by implementing a multi-head attention mechanism, which performs numerous single attention functions at the same time.

  • The second sublayer of the encoder features a multi-head self-attention mechanism, identical to the one found in the first sublayer. In addition to receiving output keys and values from the encoder, this multi-head mechanism also provides queries from lower-level decoders to the decoders.
  • The decoder can concentrate on individual words in the input sequence. A fully connected feed-forward network similar to the second sublayer of the encoder is established in the third layer.

After the three sublayers of the decoder have been executed, a normalization layer is utilized. The decoder sustains the residual connections with the other layers. Similarly, the decoder incorporates positional encodings into the input embeddings, similar to the encoder.

Understanding Neural Network Transformation

Transformer architectures are widely recognized as essential for neural networks utilized in analyzing various categories of data, including text, genomic, audio, and time series data. The area where Transformer neural networks are most commonly used is in the field of Natural Language Processing.

A Transformer neural network can encode and decode a series of vectors into its original state. The attention mechanism is a crucial component of the Transformer, as it enables the determination of each token’s relative relevance to other tokens in the input. This attention mechanism is a vital feature of the Transformer algorithm.

In a machine translation model, the Transformer architecture leverages an attention mechanism to consider all relevant words, accurately determining the appropriate gender for ‘it’ in French or Spanish. Through the attention mechanism, the Transformer can analyze the words surrounding the target word, ensuring accurate translation.

Note: Transformer neural networks can replace traditional RNNs, LSTMs, and gated recurrent networks (GRUs).

Neural Network Architecture for a Transformer

A neural network called a “Transformer” splits an input phrase into two sequences.

  1. A sequence of word vector embeddings
  2. Input sequence for positional encoding

The use of word vector embeddings as a numerical representation for text is becoming more prevalent. It is now evident that neural networks require words to be converted into embedding representations before they can interpret them accurately.

Word vector embeddings are represented in numerical value format, capturing each word’s properties. Positional encodings are included in these vectors to signify each word’s location within the source text. The Transformer processes these combined embeddings and encodings, and the output then undergoes further processing through a sequence of encoders and decoders.

Unlike TNNs (Transmission Neural Networks), RNNs (Recurrent Neural Networks) and LSTMs (Long Short-Term Memory) acquire their input sequentially. During the encoding process, each encoder transforms its input signal into a different group of vectors.

The decoding process is the opposite of encoding, where encoded data is transformed back into words and phrases in a natural language. By employing the softmax function, the probability of each word or phrase can be calculated, hence selecting the most probable outcome. This procedure ensures the generation of phrases in a natural language with increased accuracy.

Each encoder and decoder in a system comes with an attention mechanism, which facilitates the selective processing of an individual input word, while considering relevant information contained in the other words in the sequence. Additionally, it conceals words with irrelevant data.

Parallel processing on graphics processing units enables the implementation of various attention methods simultaneously. The dependable GPU provides a parallel processing capacity that optimizes the processing of multiple attention mechanisms concurrently, known as a “multi-head attention mechanism”.

Unlike LSTMs and RNNs, the Transformer deep learning model can simultaneously process numerous words, which is a significant advantage.

Network having feedforward connections

Once attention vectors have been utilized, a feedforward neural network is utilized to prepare the attention vectors for subsequent encoder or decoder layers.

The feedforward network has a significant advantage in that it is capable of processing only one attention vector at a time, whereas recurrent neural networks (RNNs) are mutually reliant. The attention vectors’ independence is crucial and significantly beneficial in situations where parallelism is required.

A brief overview of its operation

The Transformer deep learning model is capable of the following:

Distributing focus across many units

Multi-head attention can be considered a form of multitasking that permits the Transformer deep learning model to forecast the subsequent word in a sequence, using a single word as input. By employing several parallel calculations, multiple different outcomes can be generated for the same input. The final result of this process is then input into a SoftMax algorithm, which determines the most precise term.

SoftMax factors in all relevant aspects, such as the word’s tense, context, and type (verb, noun, etc.), to make simultaneous calculations that yield the highest likelihood of identifying the desired word.

Concealing multi-head focus

The multi-head attention approach is somewhat akin to the existing one, except that the word decoder cannot view what comes after the current word in the sequence. This limited view hinders the Transformer’s ability to effectively learn from data and forecast future events.

Continuous linkage

Skip connections, also known as residual connections, link one “Add and Norm” layer to another without passing through the attention module. This sort of connection can help to prevent network degradation and maintain consistent gradient flow during the training phase, ultimately enhancing its performance.

Noteworthy instances of the Transformers franchise

Transformers are an essential element of contemporary machine learning models, and their application is widespread across many of today’s premier programmes. Notable examples include Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, and IBM Watson, which all employ machine learning to transcribe human speech into written text. These models have attained significant success and are widely embraced in present-day use.


Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT), created by Google, is a technique that facilitates natural language comprehension by employing pre-trained Transformers. As of 2020, nearly all English-language Google searches used BERT.

Both GPT-2 and GPT-3 models

Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT) technology represents the next two iterations of pre-trained generative models in the realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI). GPT is an open-source tool that is utilised for a range of Natural Language Processing (NLP)-related tasks, including machine translation, question answering, text summarisation, and more. This innovative technology offers developers and researchers a powerful tool for making strides in the field of AI.

The primary distinguishing feature between GPT-2 and its successor, GPT-3, is the magnitude of their constructions. GPT-3 demonstrates significant strides over GPT-2 in several key areas, the most notable of which being its capacity to handle a remarkable 175 billion machine learning parameters, as opposed to GPT-2’s 1.5 billion.

Limitations of the Transformer

Our findings demonstrated that the Transformer deep learning model exhibited considerably superior performance to RNN-based seq2seq models. Nevertheless, it is subject to certain limitations:

  • It’s important to note that the attention-based system has a maximum character limit it can handle. As a result, text must be segmented into separate sections before it can be input into the system.
  • Breaking up paragraphs of text into smaller fragments can result in a loss of context, rendering it challenging to comprehend the overall message. Bear in mind that dividing phrases in the middle can distort their meaning. As a consequence, any grammatical or semantic structure present in the original text is lost in the fragmented version.

The Significance of “Attention”

In recent times, researchers have devoted greater energy to studying the attention mechanism, specifically how it is utilised in sequential missions. To obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the attention mechanism’s functionality, it is critical to contemplate how it dynamically assigns weights to the items in a sequence based on the queries and keys used to access them.

By employing this technique, we can swiftly and effortlessly calculate an average of multiple variables. Nevertheless, we must adjust the weight of specific elements depending on their relative importance. Ultimately, we must provide priority to specific inputs over others, and this can be achieved through dynamic selection. To achieve this, the attention mechanism requires four components that must be determined.

  • Query:

    The query identifies what is being searched for or what attention should be given to in the sequence.
  • Keys:

    Vectors are linked to items and used as input keys. This feature vector defines the attributes of the element and the level at which it is most effectively operational. To locate specific aspects of a query that require special attention, it is necessary to generate keys that can assist in identifying them.
  • Values:

    In addition to the input items, we have value vectors. The objective of this process is to generate a mean value of these feature vectors.
  • Scoring Function:

    Through the use of a scoring function, we can precisely pinpoint the areas that warrant our immediate attention. The scoring function accepts a query and key as inputs and generates a score indicating the level of attention that should be given to the query-key pairing.

The most common form of implementation involves the use of a dot product or a lightweight MLP (Multi-layer Perceptron) to compare similarity metrics.

An Overview: Defining Sequence Models

There is no denying that all events in our lives are shaped either by our choices or our surroundings. Patterns exist in almost every aspect of our existence. A sequence refers to a series of events that adhere to a logical order. This concept also applies to language; each sentence follows a specific structure to convey meaning effectively. In essence, words are ordered in a certain way to create a coherent statement.

In deep learning, it is particularly relevant to utilise sequence models since sequences often recur in datasets. Our decision to implement a sequence model or not is heavily influenced by the presence of additional highly correlated attributes and our expectations from the model.

With the use of sequence models, we can investigate the temporal arrangement of events and the interaction between their elements. As a result, we are better equipped to predict the sequence that is to follow. Prior to the development of Transformers, the most widely used architectures for such models were Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs), Long Short-Term Memory Networks (LSTMs), and Gated Recurrent Units (GRUs).

Although traditional deep learning models have been widely accepted and have produced impressive results, they have their limitations. Specifically, these models often struggle to detect long-distance relationships within sequences, thereby making it challenging to maintain context accurately. In response to these limitations, as well as the growing need for swift responses, researchers developed the concept of “Attention”. In addition, self-awareness also plays a crucial role in Transformers. To gain a better understanding of these concepts, one should consider studying the paper titled “Attention Is All You Need”.

Reinforcement Learning Based on Transformative Models

Reinforcement learning involves a methodology wherein users are rewarded for implementing successful corrective actions that aid in achieving a challenging goal. This incentivization-based approach emphasises the positive results of making correct choices and has been demonstrated to be effective. When it comes to Transformer Reinforcement Learning, Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) is the most commonly used and effective technique.

While Transformers are primarily employed in reinforcement learning exercises, they have also been remarkably efficient in natural language processing (NLP) operations. The Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT) and Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) are examples of such applications. By utilising Transformers in NLP, sequence-to-sequence issues can be aptly tackled, and long-range dependencies can be adequately managed.

When operating under time constraints, reinforcement learning through the Markov approach is the preferred method of completing tasks. This method involves utilising a sequence model to identify the most rewarding sequences of actions. Through this process, it provides an effective means of optimising the decision-making process and ensuring that tasks are completed within their specified due dates.

The creation of effective Transformer reinforcement learning solutions can be greatly enhanced by using models that possess high capacity and computational power and that can be easily adapted to other domains such as natural language processing (NLP). This enables the development of more powerful and efficient solutions that can cater to a variety of tasks.

A team of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, has recently conducted a study (as mentioned here), which suggests that the use of more advanced Transformer topologies can simplify reinforcement learning by considering it as a single, elaborate sequence modelling problem. This proposed approach is centered on the interplay between rewards and action distributions across a variety of different states.

The study titled “Reinforcement Learning as One Big Sequence Modelling Problem” (source), suggests that by eliminating the need for distinct behavioural policy guidelines, the decision-making process can be streamlined.

As a result, this method can be utilised for numerous purposes, including offline reinforcement learning and various dynamic-related domains.


In this article, we have examined the notion of sequential models, discussed the emergence of Transformer deep learning models after other sequential architectures and explored the reasons why Transformer models have emerged as the most advantageous.

After our initial discussion, we delve deeper into the specifics of the Transformer and its varied applications. We review the most frequent ways in which these machines are used and explore other potential use cases that could be advantageous. It is evident that the Transformer is a dependable and trustworthy tool with a vast range of possible applications.

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