Teaching Language Models to use Tools | by Cameron R. Wolfe, Ph.D. | Aug, 2023


Using tools makes us more capable as humans. Is the same true of LLMs?

(Photo by Barn Images on Unsplash)

As we learn more about them, large language models (LLMs) become increasingly interesting. These models can solve a variety of complex tasks accurately. At the same time, however, they struggle with certain functionality that we, as humans, consider basic! For example, LLMs commonly make arithmetic mistakes, lack access to current information, and even struggle to comprehend the progression of time. Given these limitations, we might wonder what can be done to make LLMs more capable. Are LLMs doomed to suffer these limitations forever?

Many advancements in the human race have been catalyzed by access to new and innovative tools (e.g., the printing press or computer). Might the same finding apply to LLMs? Within this overview, we will study a recent direction of research that aims to teach LLMs how to use external tools, which are made available via simple, text-to-text APIs. Using these tools, LLMs can delegate tasks like performing arithmetic or looking up current information to a specialized tool. Then, information returned by this tool can be used as context by the LLM when generating output, leading to more accurate and grounded responses.

(from [1] and ChatGPT Plus)

Giving an LLM access to an external tool is a reliable way to solve some of the limitations that these models face. However, LLMs will not know how to use tools naturally, which raises the question: How do we teach our model to leverage external tools? In this section, we will explore some of the options we have and enumerate various tools that are useful for building LLM applications.

Different Types of Learning

Different forms of learning with LLMs (created by author)

Teaching an LLM to leverage tools is no different than learning how to solve any other task with an LLM. Since these models learn in a couple of different ways, we will go over…



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