Pixar: Auto-Regressive Language Modeling in Pixel Space

Yintao Tai, Xiyang Liao, Alessandro Suglia, Antonio Vergari

Research output: Working paperPreprint

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Recent work showed the possibility of building open-vocabulary large language models (LLMs) that directly operate on pixel representations. These models are implemented as autoencoders that reconstruct masked patches of rendered text. However, these pixel-based LLMs are limited to discriminative tasks (e.g., classification) and, similar to BERT, cannot be used to generate text. Therefore, they cannot be used for generative tasks such as free-form question answering. In this work, we introduce PIXAR, the first pixel-based autoregressive LLM that performs text generation. Consisting of only a decoder, PIXAR can perform free-form generative tasks while keeping the number of parameters on par with previous encoder-decoder models. Furthermore, we highlight the challenges of generating text as non-noisy images and show this is due to using a maximum likelihood objective. To overcome this problem, we propose an adversarial pretraining stage that improves the readability and accuracy of PIXAR by 8.1 on LAMBADA and 8.5 on bAbI -- making it comparable to GPT-2 on text generation tasks. This paves the way to build open-vocabulary LLMs that operate on perceptual input only and calls into question the necessity of the usual symbolic input representation, i.e., text as (sub)tokens.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2024


  • cs.CL


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