Attention is all you need - Transformers explained

The Fifth Elephant: Paper Reading meet-up - December 2023

About the paper: “Attention Is All You Need”

In the rapidly evolving field of natural language processing, the “Attention Is All You Need” paper, authored by Vaswani et al. in 2017, marks a significant pivot point. Prior to this work, sequence-to-sequence models, especially those relying on recurrent neural networks (RNNs) and long short-term memory (LSTM) units, dominated the landscape. However, these architectures process data sequentially, leading to potential bottlenecks in training and limitations in handling long-range dependencies in sequences.

The paper introduces the Transformer architecture, a novel approach that does away with recurrence entirely and instead relies solely on attention mechanisms to draw global dependencies between input and output. By doing so, the Transformer is able to process sequences in parallel, offering significant advantages in training speed and scalability. Furthermore, the self-attention mechanism, a key component of the Transformer, allows the model to weigh the significance of different parts of the input data, making it highly adaptive and versatile.

The proposed model was showcased on two main tasks: machine translation and English parsing. It achieved state-of-the-art results, outperforming existing models and setting new benchmarks. Beyond its immediate success, the Transformer architecture paved the way for subsequent models in the NLP domain, becoming the cornerstone of many subsequent breakthroughs.

The original paper is published at

Key takeaways for the audience

“If you’re diving deep into the realm of natural language processing and its groundbreaking advancements, this session promises to enrich your understanding. We will unravel the intricacies of the Transformer architecture introduced in the “Attention Is All You Need” paper, shedding light on how it reshaped the landscape of sequence-to-sequence tasks. Whether you’re designing models, embarking on research, or just keen on staying updated with the NLP frontier, this exploration will offer valuable insights.”

  1. Decoupling of Sequence Order and Computation: Unlike RNNs, which inherently model sequence order due to their recurrent nature, the Transformer decouples sequence processing from sequence order. This allows for massively parallel computations, a significant boon for training efficiency.

  2. Self-Attention Mechanism: At its core, the Transformer uses a scaled dot-product attention mechanism which computes attention weights for each element in a sequence relative to every other element. This allows the model to capture intricate relationships, regardless of their distance in the sequence.

  3. Positional Encoding: Since Transformers don’t have a built-in notion of sequence order, they utilize sinusoidal positional encodings added to the embeddings at the input layer. This enables the model to consider the position of tokens when determining context.

  4. Multi-Head Attention: Rather than having a single set of attention weights, the Transformer employs multiple sets (or “heads”), enabling the model to focus on different parts of the input simultaneously, capturing a richer set of contextual relationships.

  5. Layer Normalization & Residual Connections: These architectural choices ensure smooth and stable training, especially given the depth of Transformer models. Residual connections mitigate the vanishing gradient problem, and layer normalization helps in faster convergence.

  6. Feed-Forward Layers: In addition to attention layers, each Transformer block contains position-wise feed-forward networks which apply linear transformations to the output of the attention layer, introducing additional capacity without increasing the complexity of the model.

  7. Encoder-Decoder Stacks: The original Transformer model is composed of an encoder stack and a decoder stack. Each stack has multiple layers (blocks) of the same structure, allowing the model to learn complex hierarchical representations.

  8. Hyperparameters and Scaling: The paper provides insights into scaling laws for Transformers, indicating that larger models benefit from proportionally larger batch sizes and learning rates, making it a guide for those aiming to train large-scale versions.

  9. End of RNN Dominance: The paper marked the decline of RNNs and LSTMs as the go-to architectures for sequence-to-sequence tasks in NLP, due to the efficiency and performance advantages offered by the Transformer.

About the presenter and the discussant

Mahathi Bhagavatula is a seasoned LLM Architect with a rich background in data science and NLP engineering. Currently working as a freelance LLM Architect, she has built and fine-tuned models such as LawyerGPT, leveraging tools like Falcon-7B and Chainlit. Her dedication to the domain is evident through her LLM Weekly, where she shares the latest updates on large language models.

Having led a team of data scientists at Edge Networks, Mahathi’s leadership played a crucial role in expanding the graph taxonomy by 300% and in the implementation of innovative research on Graph Convolution Network (GCN) within the Knowledge Graph space.

Her tenure as a Senior Data Scientist witnessed her managing client POCs and enhancing candidate-ranking mechanisms, while her role at Homeveda Media Labs led to a significant boost in search traffic through the implementation of advanced tagging and recommendation systems.

Mahathi’s foundational years as an NLP Engineer at Creditpointe Pvt Ltd laid the groundwork for her expertise, where she created concept-level search engines and developed advanced classification systems.

An alumna of IIIT Hyderabad, Mahathi holds a master’s degree in Data Science Research. She has been recognized for her academic excellence with the ACM Women’s Scholarship and has made notable contributions to the research community with her papers on named entity identification and multilingual modeling at ACL and CIKM.

Simrat Hanspal, Technical Evangelist (CEO’s office) and AI Engineer at Hasura, has over a decade of experience as an NLP practitioner. She has worked with multiple startups like Mad Street Den, Fi Money, Nirvana Insurance, and large organizations like Amazon and VMware. She will anchor and lead the discussion.

RSVP and venue

This is an online paper reading session. RSVP to participate via Zoom.

About The Fifth Elephant monthly paper discussions

The Fifth Elephant member - Bharat Shetty Barkur - is the curator of the paper discussions.

Bharat has worked across different organizations such as IBM India Software Labs, Aruba Networks, Fybr, Concerto HealthAI, and Airtel Labs. He has worked on products and platforms across diverse verticals such as retail, IoT, chat and voice bots, edtech, and healthcare leveraging AI, Machine Learning, NLP, and software engineering. His interests lie in AI, NLP research, and accessibility.

The goal is for the community to understand popular papers in Generative AI, DL, and ML domains. Bharat and other co-curators seek to put together papers that will benefit the community, and organize reading and learning sessions driven by experts and curious folks in GenerativeAI, Deep Learning, and Machine Learning.

The paper discussions will be conducted every month - online and in person.

How you can contribute

  1. Suggest a paper to discuss. Post a comment here to suggest the paper you’d like to discuss. This should involve slides, and code samples to make parts of the paper simpler and more understandable.
  2. Moderate/discuss a paper someone else is proposing.
  3. Pick up a membership to support the meet-ups and The Fifth Elephant’s activities.
  4. Spread the word among colleagues and friends. Join The Fifth Elephant Telegram group or WhatsApp group.

About The Fifth Elephant

The Fifth Elephant is a community funded organization. If you like the work that The Fifth Elephant does and want to support meet-ups and activities - online and in-person - contribute by picking up a membership


For inquiries, leave a comment or call The Fifth Elephant at +91-7676332020.


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Attention is all you need - Transformers explained

Attention is all you need - Transformers explained

40 minutes 6 December 2023

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