Emergent Mind

Abstract

We consider the problem of eliciting compositional generalization capabilities in large language models (LLMs) with a novel type of prompting strategy. Compositional generalization empowers the LLMs to solve problems that are harder than the ones they have seen (i.e., easy-to-hard generalization), which is a critical reasoning capability of human-like intelligence. However, even the current state-of-the-art LLMs still struggle with this form of reasoning. To bridge this gap, we propose skills-in-context (SKiC) prompting, which instructs LLMs how to compose basic skills to resolve more complex problems. We find that it is crucial to demonstrate both the skills and the compositional examples within the same prompting context. With as few as two examplars, our SKiC prompting initiates strong synergies between skills and their composition capabilities. Notably, it empowers LLMs to solve unseen problems that require innovative skill compositions, achieving near-perfect generalization on a broad range of challenging compositionality tasks. Intriguingly, SKiC prompting unlocks the latent potential of LLMs, enabling them to leverage pre-existing internal skills acquired during earlier pre-training stages, even when these skills are not explicitly presented in the prompting context. This results in the capability of LLMs to solve unseen complex problems by activating and composing internal competencies. With such prominent features, SKiC prompting is able to achieve state-of-the-art performance on challenging mathematical reasoning benchmarks (e.g., MATH).

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