Latent Normalizing Flows for Discrete Sequences

Zachary M. Ziegler, Alexander M. Rush

Normalizing flows are a powerful class of generative models for continuous random variables, showing both strong model flexibility and the potential for non-autoregressive generation. These benefits are also desired when modeling discrete random variables such as text, but directly applying normalizing flows to discrete sequences poses significant additional challenges. We propose a VAE-based generative model which jointly learns a normalizing flow-based distribution in the latent space and a stochastic mapping to an observed discrete space. In this setting, we find that it is crucial for the flow-based distribution to be highly multimodal. To capture this property, we propose several normalizing flow architectures to maximize model flexibility. Experiments consider common discrete sequence tasks of character-level language modeling and polyphonic music generation. Our results indicate that an autoregressive flow-based model can match the performance of a comparable autoregressive baseline, and a non-autoregressive flow-based model can improve generation speed with a penalty to performance.

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