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BERT Attention Analysis

This repository contains code for What Does BERT Look At? An Analysis of BERT's Attention. It includes code for getting attention maps from BERT and writing them to disk, analyzing BERT's attention in general (sections 3 and 6 of the paper), and comparing its attention to dependency syntax (sections 4.2 and 5). We will add the code for the coreference resolution analysis (section 4.3 of the paper) soon!


For extracting attention maps from text:

Additional requirements for the attention analysis:

Attention Analysis

Syntax_Analysis.ipynb and General_Analysis.ipynb contain code for analyzing BERT's attention, including reproducing the figures and tables in the paper.

You can download the data needed to run the notebooks (including BERT attention maps on Wikipedia and the Penn Treebank) from here. However, note that the Penn Treebank annotations are not freely available, so the Penn Treebank data only includes dummy labels. If you want to run the analysis on your own data, you can use the scripts described below to extract BERT attention maps.

Extracting BERT Attention Maps

We provide a script for running BERT over text and writing the resulting attention maps to disk. The input data should be a JSON file containing a list of dicts, each one corresponding to a single example to be passed in to BERT. Each dict must contain exactly one of the following fields:

  • "text": A string.
  • "words": A list of strings. Needed if you want word-level rather than token-level attention.
  • "tokens": A list of strings corresponding to BERT wordpiece tokenization.

If the present field is "tokens," the script expects [CLS]/[SEP] tokens to be already added; otherwise it adds these tokens to the beginning/end of the text automatically. Note that if an example is longer than max_sequence_length tokens after BERT wordpiece tokenization, attention maps will not be extracted for it. Attention extraction adds two additional fields to each dict:

  • "attns": A numpy array of size [num_layers, heads_per_layer, sequence_length, sequence_length] containing attention weights.
  • "tokens": If "tokens" was not already provided for the example, the BERT-wordpiece-tokenized text (list of strings).

Other fields already in the feature dicts will be preserved. For example if each dict has a tags key containing POS tags, they will stay in the data after attention extraction so they can be used when analyzing the data.

Attention extraction is run with

python --preprocessed_data_file <path-to-your-data> --bert_dir <directory-containing-BERT-model>

The following optional arguments can also be added:

  • --max_sequence_length: Maximum input sequence length after tokenization (default is 128).
  • --batch_size: Batch size when running BERT over examples (default is 16).
  • --debug: Use a tiny BERT model for fast debugging.
  • --cased: Do not lowercase the input text.
  • --word_level: Compute word-level instead of token-level attention (see Section 4.1 of the paper).

The feature dicts with added attention maps (numpy arrays with shape [n_layers, n_heads_per_layer, n_tokens, n_tokens]) are written to <path-to-your-data>_attn.pkl

Pre-processing Scripts

We include two pre-processing scripts for going from a raw data file to JSON that can be supplied to does BERT-pre-training-style preprocessing for unlabeled text (i.e, taking two consecutive text spans, truncating them so they are at most max_sequence_length tokens, and adding [CLS]/[SEP] tokens). Each line of the input data file should be one sentence. Documents should be separated by empty lines. Example usage:

python --data-file $ATTN_DATA_DIR/unlabeled.txt --bert-dir $ATTN_DATA_DIR/uncased_L-12_H-768_A-12

will create the file $ATTN_DATA_DIR/unlabeled.json containing pre-processed data. After pre-processing, you can run to get attention maps, e.g.,

python --preprocessed-data-file $ATTN_DATA_DIR/unlabeled.json --bert-dir $ATTN_DATA_DIR/uncased_L-12_H-768_A-12 pre-processes dependency parsing data. Dependency parsing data should consist of two files train.txt and dev.txt under a common directory. Each line in the files should contain a word followed by a space followed by <index_of_head>-<dependency_label> (e.g., 0-root). Examples should be separated by empty lines. Example usage:

python --data-dir $ATTN_DATA_DIR/depparse

After pre-processing, you can run to get attention maps, e.g.,

python --preprocessed-data-file $ATTN_DATA_DIR/depparse/dev.json --bert-dir $ATTN_DATA_DIR/uncased_L-12_H-768_A-12 --word_level

Computing Distances Between Attention Heads computes the average Jenson-Shannon divergence between the attention weights of all pairs of attention heads and writes the results to disk as a numpy array of shape [n_heads, n_heads]. These distances can be used to cluster BERT's attention heads (see Section 6 and Figure 6 of the paper; code for doing this clustering is in General_Analysis.ipynb). Example usage (requires that attention maps have already been extracted):

python --attn-data-file $ATTN_DATA_DIR/unlabeled_attn.pkl --outfile $ATTN_DATA_DIR/head_distances.pkl


If you find the code or data helpful, please cite the original paper:

  title = {What Does BERT Look At? An Analysis of BERT's Attention},
  author = {Kevin Clark and Urvashi Khandelwal and Omer Levy and Christopher D. Manning},
  booktitle = {BlackBoxNLP@ACL},
  year = {2019}


Kevin Clark (@clarkkev).


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