Meta-in-context learning in large language models

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Julian Coda-Forno, Marcel Binz, Zeynep Akata, Matt Botvinick, Jane Wang, Eric Schulz


Large language models have shown tremendous performance in a variety of tasks. In-context learning -- the ability to improve at a task after being provided with a number of demonstrations -- is seen as one of the main contributors to their success. In the present paper, we demonstrate that the in-context learning abilities of large language models can be recursively improved via in-context learning itself. We coin this phenomenon meta-in-context learning. Looking at two idealized domains, a one-dimensional regression task and a two-armed bandit task, we show that meta-in-context learning adaptively reshapes a large language model's priors over expected tasks. Furthermore, we find that meta-in-context learning modifies the in-context learning strategies of such models. Finally, we broaden the scope of our investigation to encompass two diverse benchmarks: one focusing on real-world regression problems and the other encompassing multiple NLP tasks. In both cases, we observe competitive performance comparable to that of traditional learning algorithms. Taken together, our work improves our understanding of in-context learning and paves the way toward adapting large language models to the environment they are applied purely through meta-in-context learning rather than traditional finetuning.