Dynamic mask for RoBERTa VS static mask for BERT

Tiya Vaj
2 min readSep 6, 2023

In RoBERTa, dynamic masking means that the process of selecting and masking words within a sentence is not the same for every epoch during the pretraining phase. This introduces randomness into the training process, and different subsets of words are masked in each epoch. The idea behind dynamic masking is to encourage the model to learn more robust and contextual representations of words.

In BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), a static masking strategy is typically used, where the same words are masked throughout the entire training process. This can lead to the model memorizing the positions of masked words and their relationships rather than learning more general language representations.

Dynamic masking in RoBERTa aims to mitigate this issue by varying the masked positions from epoch to epoch. This forces the model to rely more on contextual information rather than positional cues when predicting masked words, resulting in better representations of language semantics and syntax.

Overall, dynamic masking is one of the techniques that contribute to RoBERTa’s improved performance compared to the original BERT model. It helps the model generalize better and capture a deeper understanding of the language.

so if every epoch is not the same, how model can predict correctly?

The key to understanding why dynamic masking works effectively in pretraining models like RoBERTa lies in the concept of self-supervised learning. During the pretraining phase, the model doesn’t have access to ground truth labels or any external information. Instead, it learns to predict masked words based on the context provided by the surrounding words within a sentence.

Dynamic masking introduces variability into the training process, where different subsets of words are masked in each epoch. This variability encourages the model to focus on the relationships between words, understand the context more deeply, and generalize better to unseen data. Here’s why it works:

1. Robustness to Positional Information: In a static masking scenario, the model might rely heavily on positional information to predict masked words. For example, if it always sees a mask at the end of a sentence, it could learn to predict words at the end of sentences solely based on their position. Dynamic masking disrupts this positional bias.

2. Contextual Understanding: By seeing different subsets of masked words in different epochs, the model is encouraged to capture more general linguistic patterns. It learns to rely on contextual cues and semantic relationships between words rather than memorizing specific word positions.

3. Generalization: The model’s ability to generalize to new data improves because it has learned to predict words under various masking scenarios. It becomes more adaptable to different text corpora and tasks.

In essence, dynamic masking fosters better contextual understanding and generalization by forcing the model to consider different masked word patterns. While the model’s predictions for masked words might not be perfect in every epoch, the collective learning across epochs results in a more robust and capable language model. This is why models like RoBERTa, which use dynamic masking, tend to outperform static masking approaches like BERT.

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Tiya Vaj

Ph.D. Research Scholar in Informatics and my passionate towards data-driven for social good.Let's connect here https://www.linkedin.com/in/tiya-v-076648128/