The BERT model was proposed in BERT: Pre-training of Deep Bidirectional Transformers for Language Understanding by Jacob Devlin, Ming-Wei Chang, Kenton Lee and Kristina Toutanova. It’s a bidirectional transformer pre-trained using a combination of masked language modeling objective and next sentence prediction on a large corpus comprising the Toronto Book Corpus and Wikipedia.
The abstract from the paper is the following:
We introduce a new language representation model called BERT, which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. Unlike recent language representation models, BERT is designed to pre-train deep bidirectional representations from unlabeled text by jointly conditioning on both left and right context in all layers. As a result, the pre-trained BERT model can be fine-tuned with just one additional output layer to create state-of-the-art models for a wide range of tasks, such as question answering and language inference, without substantial task-specific architecture modifications.
BERT is conceptually simple and empirically powerful. It obtains new state-of-the-art results on eleven natural language processing tasks, including pushing the GLUE score to 80.5% (7.7% point absolute improvement), MultiNLI accuracy to 86.7% (4.6% absolute improvement), SQuAD v1.1 question answering Test F1 to 93.2 (1.5 point absolute improvement) and SQuAD v2.0 Test F1 to 83.1 (5.1 point absolute improvement).
BERT is a model with absolute position embeddings so it’s usually advised to pad the inputs on the right rather than the left.
BERT was trained with a masked language modeling (MLM) objective. It is therefore efficient at predicting masked tokens and at NLU in general, but is not optimal for text generation. Models trained with a causal language modeling (CLM) objective are better in that regard.
Alongside MLM, BERT was trained using a next sentence prediction (NSP) objective using the [CLS] token as a sequence approximate. The user may use this token (the first token in a sequence built with special tokens) to get a sequence prediction rather than a token prediction. However, averaging over the sequence may yield better results than using the [CLS] token.