Gen AI Trends Part 1 - The Rise of Small LLMs

Rishiraj Acharya@rishirajacharya
Feb 23, 2024
3 minute read32 views
Gen AI Trends Part 1 - The Rise of Small LLMs

Large language models (LLMs) have dominated the AI landscape in recent years. However, a paradigm shift is underway with the growing prominence of small language models (SLMs). SLMs like Google's Gemini Nano and Microsoft's Phi-2 are disrupting the field, offering remarkable performance, efficiency gains, and real-world accessibility.

The LLM Landscape: Size Isn't Everything

LLMs have achieved impressive successes in various tasks like text generation, translation, and question-answering. Yet, their massive parameter counts often mean billions – sometimes trillions – of parameters. This leads to a few key challenges:

  • Computational Complexity: LLMs require vast computational resources. Training and running these models can be prohibitively expensive even on specialized hardware.

  • Environmental Impact: The carbon footprint associated with training and deploying LLMs raises serious environmental concerns.

  • Deployment Limitations: Embedding LLMs directly in edge devices or resource-constrained environments is often impractical due to their size and power requirements.

The SLM Advantage

SLMs address these challenges head-on:

  • Reduced Computational Overhead: With significantly fewer parameters, SLMs offer a lightweight alternative. They're faster to train, easier to fine-tune, and demand less power during inference.

  • Economic and Environmental Benefits: The reduced computational needs of SLMs translate to lower costs and a lighter environmental impact.

  • Edge Deployment: SLMs can comfortably run on a broader range of devices, including smartphones, IoT devices, and even embedded systems – expanding the reach of AI applications.

Spotlight on Key Players

  1. Google's Gemini Nano: Gemini Nano models demonstrate the potential for SLMs to deliver impressive capabilities. These models prioritize efficiency and targeted functionality. For example, a Gemini Nano model might specialize in code generation for a particular language or execute directly on mobile devices for offline use.

  2. Microsoft's Phi-2: The Phi series underscores the surprising power of SLMs. Phi-2, at 2.7B parameters, has outperformed larger competitors on benchmarks like HumanEval and MBPP. This indicates that intelligently designed architectures and training strategies can offset the need for sheer scale, at least for some tasks.

Technical Considerations and Optimizations

The effectiveness of SLMs relies on several crucial techniques:

  • Knowledge Distillation: Training a smaller SLM to mimic the outputs of a large teacher LLM, allowing transfer of 'knowledge' without the bulk of added parameters.

  • Quantization: Reducing the precision of model weights (e.g., from float32 to float16) to shrink model size and speed up computations.

  • Pruning: The selective removal of parameters or even whole neurons from a network to maintain performance while reducing model size.

  • Efficient Architectures: Transformer models are the backbone of modern LLMs, but smaller, more compute-efficient variants like Performers are explored for SLMs.

The Future is Small (and Powerful)

SLMs present a compelling vision for the future of AI:

  • Democratized AI: SLMs pave the way for widespread AI adoption, enabling developers without access to massive computing resources to create innovative applications.

  • Tailored Functionality: SLMs can excel in specific, well-defined tasks, offering focused performance rather than trying to be a "jack of all trades".

  • Hybrid AI Systems: SLMs can be strategically integrated into larger systems, handling tasks suitable for their size while larger models tackle more complex or broad requirements.

While LLMs still play a critical role, the rise of SLMs like Gemini Nano and Phi-2 heralds an exciting and more sustainable era in the development of language models. Continued research and innovation within the SLM domain will undoubtedly revolutionize how we interact with and utilize AI technology.


Rishiraj Acharya

Learn more about Rishiraj Acharya

Rishiraj is a Google Developer Expert in ML (1st GDE from Generative AI sub-category in India). He is a Machine Learning Engineer at Tensorlake, worked at Dynopii & Celebal at past and is a Hugging Face 🤗 Fellow. He is the organizer of TensorFlow User Group Kolkata and have been a Google Summer of Code contributor at TensorFlow. He is a Kaggle Competitions Master and have been a KaggleX BIPOC Grant Mentor. Rishiraj specializes in the domain of Natural Language Processing and Speech Technologies.