The Unspoken Challenges of Large Language Models

Published on
November 16, 2023

The Unspoken Challenges of Large Language Models

Published on
November 16, 2023
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Large language models (LLMs) have moved beyond labs and are increasingly becoming indispensable in healthcare, retail, development, finance, and marketing. Their remarkable human-like content generation stems from unsupervised learning, enabling them to tackle various tasks, even new ones. Noteworthy models like GPT-3 and Megatron-Turing NLG offer text generation, summarisation, translation, classification, and chatbot capabilities. Techniques like prompt tuning and fine-tuning enhance their adaptability to diverse industries. However, in tandem with their remarkable capabilities, large language models bring forth a distinctive set of challenges.

Developing and maintaining LLMs poses a significant barrier to entry for most enterprises due to the substantial capital investment, technical expertise, large datasets, and compute infrastructure required for optimal performance, all while facing challenges related to size, latency, bias, fairness, and generated result quality in production deployment. Deciding to build an LLM is a multifaceted task with many considerations.

Compute Power: The Make or Break Factor

Training large language models demands significant computational resources. Organisations must allocate resources towards robust hardware infrastructure, such as high-performance GPUs or TPUs, for efficient model training and execution. These computational requirements include, but are not limited to:

  1. Memory Limitations - LLMs demand substantial memory due to their processing of vast amounts of information. This can pose difficulties, particularly when attempting to deploy them on memory-constrained devices like mobile phones.
  2. Large Model Sizes - Storing these models demands hundreds of gigabytes of storage capacity. Employing top-tier GPUs and basic data parallelism falls short for deployment, and even alternative strategies like pipeline and model parallelism entail trade-offs between features, user-friendliness, and memory/compute efficiency.
  3. Scalability Challenges / Bandwidth Requirements - Scalability is critical for LLMs, often achieved through model parallelism (MP) by dividing the model across multiple machines. Distributed inference further extends this approach for handling large-scale language tasks. However, MP's efficiency varies; it excels within a single node but can hamper performance and efficiency when distributed across nodes due to increased inter-machine communication overhead. Deploying LLMs involves multiple network requests across servers, leading to network latency that can slow down performance and increase response times, impacting user experience and processing efficiency.

The Talent Pool: Why Expertise Matters

Training and deploying large language models present formidable challenges that demand a profound grasp of deep learning workflows, transformers, distributed software, and hardware, as well as the adept management of numerous GPUs concurrently. Constructing large language models necessitates a cross-functional team with proficiency not only in science but also in engineering. However, it's worth noting that this technology is relatively new, and although the field is growing, the availability of experts is still limited.

The emerging status of large language models means that finding specialised talent is a challenge. Educational programs are beginning to catch up by incorporating these topics into their curricula, but the demand in the business world for skilled professionals far outstrips the current supply. As a result, companies often find themselves in bidding wars for the available talent, increasing the cost and complexity of building an in-house team.

Given the scarcity of specialised expertise, the role of external consultancy services becomes even more crucial. They can provide the technical skills needed for effective deployment and management of these complex models without the difficulties associated with long-term staff acquisition and retention.

Energy Costs: The Hidden Price Tag

Deploying large language models demands substantial computational resources, which can lead to increased energy consumption and a substantial carbon footprint, posing a dilemma for organisations committed to reducing their environmental impact. According to nnlabs, the power usage of LLMs significantly varies based on model size. For instance, OpenAI's GPT-2, with just 1.5 billion parameters, consumed a modest 28,000 kWh of energy. In stark contrast, its successor, GPT-3, boasting 175 billion parameters, devoured a staggering 284,000 kWh of energy, underscoring the escalating energy demands associated with larger models. ChatGPT is estimated that the daily operational cost of ChatGPT is around $700,000. As each successive iteration of these models grows in size, businesses will confront ever-increasing energy expenses, alongside the detrimental environmental impacts. While many companies may lack the resources to entirely transition their infrastructure to rely on renewable energy sources or offset their carbon footprint, there are strategies accessible to all.

At a hardware level, companies can opt to invest slightly more in energy-efficient GPUs. On a software level, implementing caching mechanisms can substantially diminish computational demands during inference. By storing frequently requested responses in memory, this approach reduces the number of computations necessary to generate user responses, simultaneously addressing bandwidth constraints.

Financial Barriers and Accessibility

Training LLMs can cost millions of dollars in compute resources, and deploying them is also expensive, making them less accessible to smaller organisations or individuals. For instance, ChatGPT, while usually responsive within seconds, can experience delays during high user traffic or complex queries, necessitating high throughput and low latency for real-time service. This investment can be costly and necessitates expertise in overseeing and optimising extensive computing clusters, posing a particular challenge for smaller businesses with limited purchasing capabilities. One way to reduce the barrier to entry is by harnessing cloud services, which can help lower the threshold for smaller businesses by eliminating the need to purchase hardware infrastructure upfront, although it's important to note that cloud solutions may prove to be more expensive in the long term and depending on your specific application.

Possible approaches may involve selecting hardware that aligns with the specific needs of the LLM, a task that can be intricate for businesses with diverse purposes. Alternatively, one can consider employing specialised hardware, such as Tensor Processing Units (TPUs) or Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs). Additional enhancements can be achieved by exploring serverless inference options that dynamically scale according to demand. Improving the model for serving purposes, whether through techniques like model compression, model quantization, or model pruning, can play a vital role in reducing inference costs. Additionally, fine-tuning the inference code, both from a logical perspective and by harnessing specialised hardware as mentioned earlier, offers opportunities to enhance performance even further.

Companies like Hugging Face are democratising access to this technology and providing more predictable cost structures through services like HF Training Cluster, further enhancing accessibility.

Maintaining Model Performance and Integrity

With the growing size and complexity of language models, comprehending their internal mechanisms and decision-making processes becomes progressively challenging. Ensuring transparency and interpretability is paramount, particularly in deploying models within sensitive domains like healthcare or finance. Companies must allocate resources for research and techniques aimed at enhancing the interpretability and explainability of large language models. Moreover, language models require ongoing updates and enhancements to accommodate evolving language patterns, domain-specific knowledge, and user feedback. Establishing systematic procedures and pipelines for model updates, retraining, and version control is essential to guarantee the models' continued relevance and performance as time progresses.

Final Thoughts

The rise of large language models is reshaping the business landscape, offering unprecedented capabilities in text generation and analysis. However, these advanced models come with their own set of challenges—be it computational costs, scalability, or technical complexity. This is where specialised consultancy services can play a crucial role. By leveraging their expertise, organisations can efficiently navigate the complexities of deploying and maintaining these powerful models.

Consultancies like Deeper Insights offer targeted solutions, from optimising computational resources to ensuring efficient scalability, thus making the implementation of large language models not only possible but also cost-effective for businesses. As we journey further into this rapidly evolving field, effective partnerships and collaborations will be key to fully harnessing the benefits of this transformative technology in the business world. If you're looking to mitigate risk while diving into Large Language Model or general AI development, an Accelerated AI programme could be a prudent choice.

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