Impossible Distillation: from Low-Quality Model to High-Quality Dataset & Model for Summarization and Paraphrasing


It is commonly perceived that the strongest language models (LMs) rely on a combination of massive scale, instruction data, and human feedback to perform specialized tasks – e.g., summarization and paraphrasing, without supervision. In this paper, we propose that language models can learn to summarize and paraphrase sentences, with none of these 3 factors. We present Impossible Distillation, a framework that distills a task-specific dataset directly from an off-the-shelf LM, even when it is impossible for the LM itself to reliably solve the task. By training a student model on the generated dataset and amplifying its capability through self-distillation, our method yields a high-quality model and dataset from a low-quality teacher model, without the need for scale or supervision. Using Impossible Distillation, we are able to distill an order of magnitude smaller model (with only 770M parameters) that outperforms 175B parameter GPT-3, in both quality and controllability, as confirmed by automatic and human evaluations. Furthermore, as a useful byproduct of our approach, we obtain DimSum+, a high-quality dataset with 3.4M sentence summaries and paraphrases. Our analyses show that this dataset, as a purely LM-generated corpus, is more diverse and more effective for generalization to unseen domains than all human-authored datasets – including Gigaword with 4M samples.