More than just ChatGPT. The Evolution and Applications of Transformer Models

February 27, 2023  ·  3m read

When you hear the word “transformer”, the first thing that might come to mind is Optimus Prime, or Bumblebee from the sci-fi franchise featuring robots that can transform into various vehicles. But in the world of artificial intelligence, transformers are a type of neural network architecture that has taken the field by storm in recent years.

At the forefront of this trend is ChatGPT, which garnered massive media attention late last year as it rapidly grew to a user base of 100 Million users in its first 2 months. It is a large language model trained by OpenAI that can carry on conversations with humans in a natural and intuitive way. But transformer models like ChatGPT are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the capabilities of these powerful networks.

A Brief History of Transformer Models

The transformer architecture was introduced in 2017 in the paper “Attention Is All You Need”, published by Google researchers. The paper proposed a new type of neural network that uses self-attention mechanisms to compute representations of input sequences, enabling it to better handle long-term dependencies in natural language processing (NLP) tasks. Long-term dependencies refer to relationships between words or phrases that occur far apart from each other in a sentence or a document.

When we process language, we often rely on the relationships between words that occur far apart from each other in a sentence or document. Traditional neural network models struggle to effectively capture these long-term dependencies because they process inputs based on a fixed window size. In contrast, transformer models use self-attention mechanisms to more accurately compute representations of input sequences, enabling them to weigh the importance of each word based on its relationship with other words. This ability to better understand the relationships between words makes transformer models more effective at processing language-based tasks like generating natural-sounding text, answering questions, and translating languages.

Prior to the introduction of transformer models, NLP tasks were mainly performed using recurrent neural networks (RNNs) and convolutional neural networks (CNNs). However, these models had limitations in capturing long-term dependencies and dealing with variable-length input sequences. Transformer models addressed these issues by using self-attention, which allows them to weigh the importance of each word in a sentence based on its relationship with other words.

In 2018, Google introduced the Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) model, which achieved state-of-the-art results on a range of NLP tasks, including question answering and sentiment analysis. Later that year, OpenAI introduced the Generative Pretrained Transformer (GPT) model, which has been widely used for tasks such as text generation, language modelling, and summarisation.

Since then, transformer models have become increasingly popular and have been applied to other fields beyond NLP, including image recognition and speech recognition. In 2020, Google introduced the Vision Transformer (ViT), which uses a transformer-based architecture to achieve state-of-the-art results on image recognition tasks.

For a more detailed overview of how transformers work, read this article by one of our subsidiary companies, Cape AI!

Applications of Transformer Models in Industry

Far beyond the mass media hype, transformer models have been widely adopted in various industries, particularly in areas that involve NLP. Here are some examples of how transformer models are being used:


Transformer models have been used to create chatbots that can converse with humans in a more natural and intuitive way. By using transformer models to generate responses, chatbots can understand the context of a conversation and respond appropriately. Chatbot Graphic, ChatGPT

Search engines

Transformer models are used to power search engines by enabling them to better understand natural language queries. This results in more accurate search results and a better user experience. Search Engine, Google, Bing

Recommendation systems

Transformer models can be used to make more accurate product recommendations by analysing a user’s past behaviour and preferences. This is particularly useful in e-commerce and content recommendation platforms. Recommendation Engine

Language translation

Transformer models have been used to create more accurate and natural-sounding translations between languages. By analysing the context of a sentence, transformer models can generate translations that are more appropriate for the given context. Google Translate

Image recognition

Transformer models like ViT have achieved state-of-the-art results on image recognition tasks. This has applications in areas such as self-driving cars, where accurate object recognition is critical for safety. Image Recognition, Camera, Photo

In conclusion, transformer models have had a significant impact on the field of NLP and beyond. Their ability to capture long-term dependencies and understand the context of input sequences has led to state-of-the-art results on a range of tasks. As transformer models continue to evolve and become more powerful, we can expect to see them being used in even more applications in the future.

If you’d like to see how you can use transformer models in your business, reach out to us and let our team of experts walk you through it!