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7 April, 2023

Unlocking the Reasoning Potential of Large Language Models: A Deep Dive into Chain-of-Thought Prompting

In the rapidly emerging field of generative artificial intelligence, large language models have made significant strides in understanding and generating human-like text. However, their ability to reason and solve complex problems has been somewhat limited. A new and highly useful technique called "Chain-of-Thought (CoT) prompting," has been proposed that opens up an exciting set of opportunities to apply generative AI to real world challenges. This new technique was introduced and explained in the research paper "Chain of Thought Prompting Elicits Reasoning in Large Language Models" by Wei et al. The following post provides a brief summary of the paper.

Generative AI has exploded in popularity since OpenAI released ChatGPT in November 2022 as the chat interface made the technology more accessible to non-technical users. Since then a number of alternative GPT based technologies have released including Microsoft Copilot (originally Bing AI), Anthropic's Claude, Google Bard and before those both Character AI and Perlexity AI were released. The technology is becoming more broad based, capable and accessible to both consumers and businesses.

Having been an early adopter of generative AI I had to learn prompt engineering at a time when there were few resources available. The only meaningful learning resources were libraries of example prompts which were very limited in scope and the tutorials provided in the OpenAI documentation. I previously posted the five lessons learned implementing AI models using the OpenAI GPT-3 API in which I briefly summarised my experience in taking a product to market using the early versions of the API back in November 2021. The key learning at that time was how highly sensitive the models were to the characters used in the prompt and all kinds of techniques were required to get a consistent, high quality response. Ultimately, only by fine-tuning the models to a specific task could you confidently release a product to market.

Prompt engineering is progressing rapidly and Chain-of-Thought prompting offers the potential of a quantum leap forward in the practial utility of LLMs.

What is Chain-of-Thought (CoT) Prompting?

CoT prompting is a method that guides large language models to generate intermediate steps or "thoughts" before arriving at the final answer. This approach encourages the model to engage in multi-step reasoning, similar to how a human might solve a problem. The key benefit of this technique is that it helps the model produce more accurate and explainable answers, particularly for complex problems requiring multi-step reasoning or problem-solving skills.

The following figure is taken from the paper and provides an example of a chain-of-thought prompt compared to a typical prompt:

Chain-of-Thought Prompt Image

How Does CoT Prompting Work?

At its core, CoT prompting mimics the human thought process by breaking down complex problems into smaller, manageable steps. Here's a simplified summary of how it works:

  1. Formulate the Problem: Start with a clear problem statement. For example, "What is the square root of 256?"
  2. Initiate Chain of Thought: Prompt the model to start reasoning by asking it to break down the problem into smaller steps. For instance, "Can you think about how to find the square root of a number? What would be the first step?"
  3. Guide the Reasoning: Continue guiding the model through the reasoning process by asking it to perform each step. For example, "Now that you have the first step, can you perform it? What is the result?"
  4. Iterate: Repeat this process for each subsequent step until the problem is solved. For instance, "Great! Now that you have the result from the first step, what should be the next step in finding the square root of a number?"

The Power of CoT Prompting: Experimental Results

To evaluate the effectiveness of CoT prompting, the papers' authors conducted experiments using various language models, including GPT-3, PaLM and Codex. They compared CoT prompting with traditional direct prompting methods and found that it significantly improved the model's performance on a range of reasoning tasks, such as:

  • Arithmetic Reasoning: Improved accuracy in solving complex arithmetic problems by breaking them down into smaller steps.
  • Symbolic Reasoning: Enhanced ability to perform symbolic manipulation, like simplifying algebraic expressions.
  • Logical Reasoning: Increased accuracy in solving logical reasoning problems through a guided deduction process.
  • Commonsense Reasoning: Improved commonsense reasoning abilities, allowing the model to answer questions related to everyday situations and causal relationships.
  • Transitive Inference: Assisted language models in making transitive inferences by leading them through a series of comparisons and deductions.

Potential Limitations and Future Research Directions

While CoT prompting offers promising results, it is not without its challenges. Some potential limitations include:

  • The need for careful prompt design to ensure effective multi-step reasoning.
  • The difficulty of applying this method to more complex problems requiring long chains of thought.
  • The potential for hallucinations in generated reasoning chains.
  • The reliance on task-specific prompts.

Future research could focus on investigating methods to automatically generate CoT prompts and improving models' ability to handle more complex reasoning tasks.

The Bottom Line: A Giant Leap for Language Models

CoT prompting is a significant step towards enabling large language models to perform multi-step reasoning, providing valuable insights into how these models can be guided to think and solve problems more like humans. By harnessing the power of CoT prompting, recruiters for CEO positions and other professionals can unlock new possibilities in leveraging AI for complex problem-solving tasks, ultimately driving innovation and growth in their organizations.

About The Author

I build businesses, both as independent startups and as new initiatives within large global companies. Having been an early adopter of generative AI as a member of the beta program of OpenAi's GPT-3 model, I released my first LLM based product, Perxeive, to the Apple App Store in November 2021. Since then, I have continued to develop my experience and skills of applying generative AI to real world challenges and opportunities. If you are looking to build a business and require leadership then please contact me via the About section of this website.