The Implicit Length Bias of Label Smoothing on Beam Search Decoding

Bowen Liang, Pidong Wang,Yuan Cao


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Label smoothing is ubiquitously applied in Neural Machine Translation (NMT) training. While label smoothing offers a desired regularization effect during model training, in this paper we demonstrate that it nevertheless introduces length biases in the beam search decoding procedure. Our analysis shows that label smoothing implicitly applies a length penalty term to output sequence, causing a bias towards shorter translations. We also show that for a model fully optimized with label smoothing, translation length is implicitly upper bounded by a fixed constant independent of input. We verify our theory by applying a simple rectification function at inference time to restore the unbiased distributions from the label-smoothed model predictions. This rectification method led to consistent quality improvements on WMT English-German, English-French, English-Czech and English-Chinese tasks, up to +0.3 BLEU at beam size 4 and +2.8 BLEU at beam size 200.
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