Why ‘Local’ LLMs on Your Own Devices May Be the Next Big Deal

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Key Takeaways

Federated Learning - where tasks are carried out locally, but learnings are sent back to the central model - may change how we use large language models (LLMs), tackling privacy, scalability, and user experience challenges. FL ensures privacy by sending only model updates, making fine-tuning economically feasible and scalable. Continuous adaptation keeps LLMs current, and local deployment enhances user experience — and private.

The advent of Large Language Models (LLMs) has marked a shift in various industries, particularly with models like ChatGPT showcasing advanced linguistic capabilities and adding new features.

An emerging feature, Federated Learning (FL), emerges as the next potential game-changer, allowing model training across decentralized devices or servers that hold local data samples.

Unlike centralizing all data, FL trains models directly on local devices, sending only model updates to a central server for aggregation.

You may see where this is going: an extremely efficient version on your phone or computer, yet still contributing to the evolution of chatbots and having generally favorable effects on privacy, data security, computational resources, and scalability.

Strengths and Challenges of LLMs

LLMs derive their strength from the ability to analyze vast datasets and generate human-like responses, making them indispensable in tasks requiring natural language understanding.

For example, LLMs can sift through and summarize medical literature in healthcare, providing valuable insights to researchers and practitioners. In education, these models can assist in creating interactive and personalized learning experiences.


Similarly, in finance, LLMs can aid in data analysis and decision-making processes, while in customer service, they can automate responses, improving efficiency and responsiveness.

However, the effectiveness of LLMs for specialized tasks often depends on fine-tuning, a process that refines the model’s capabilities for specific domains. Despite its benefits, fine-tuning poses challenges, demanding significant computational resources and facing limitations in acquiring domain-specific data, mainly when privacy concerns restrict data availability and sharing.

Striking a balance between the need for fine-tuning and the constraints imposed by resource requirements and data availability becomes a critical consideration for organizations leveraging LLMs in their workflows.

Why Federated Learning is a Big Deal

1. Privacy Preservation and Enhanced Security: FL safeguards user privacy by sending only model updates, not raw data, to a central server. This decentralized method aligns with privacy regulations and minimizes the risk of data breaches, ensuring data security. As data privacy becomes increasingly crucial, FL offers a solution that enables organizations to comply with data protection laws while leveraging the power of LLMs.

2. Scalability and Cost-Effectiveness: FL’s decentralized training spreads the computational workload, enhancing scalability and bringing substantial cost savings. By tapping into the computational power of various devices, FL turns fine-tuning into a manageable and economically efficient process. This is particularly advantageous for organizations with limited resources, democratizing access to the benefits of LLMs.

3. Continuous Improvement and Adaptability: Real-world scenarios often involve continuously expanding datasets, posing a challenge for continuous fine-tuning updates. FL seamlessly addresses this challenge by allowing the integration of newly collected data into existing models. This ensures continuous improvement and adaptability to changing environments, making FL a crucial element in the evolution of LLMs. In dynamic sectors like healthcare and finance, where staying current with the latest information is paramount, FL ensures LLMs remain relevant and practical.

4. Improved User Experience with Local Deployment: FL addresses privacy and scalability concerns and significantly improves the user experience. By deploying models directly to edge devices, FL speeds up model responses, minimizing latency and ensuring quick answers for users. Local deployment facilitates real-time tasks without delays from network issues, enhancing user satisfaction. This aspect is particularly relevant in applications where immediate responses are critical, such as virtual assistants and interactive customer service.

The Challenges of Federated Learning in LLMs

While FL holds immense potential, the development of federated learning for LLMs is still in a premature stage, primarily due to the following challenges:

1. Large Models, Big Demands: LLMs demand substantial memory, communication, and computational resources. Conventional FL methods involve transmitting and training the entire LLM across multiple clients using their local data. However, the considerable size of LLMs introduces complexities related to storage, model transmission, and the computational resources required for training or fine-tuning. This challenge intensifies in scenarios with limited storage and computational capabilities, especially in cross-device FL.

2. Proprietary LLMs: Proprietary Large Language Models pose challenges as clients do not own them. Allowing federated fine-tuning without accessing the entire model becomes necessary, especially in closed-source LLMs.

Federated Learning: Opportunities and Future Directions

Despite the challenges, FL can potentially overcome obstacles associated with using LLMs. Collaborative pre-training and fine-tuning enhance LLMs’ robustness, and efficient algorithms address memory, communication, and computation challenges. Designing FL systems specific to LLMs and leveraging decentralized data present exciting opportunities for the future.

As technology evolves, FL emerges as a critical player in ensuring LLMs’ effectiveness, adaptability, and security across diverse applications and industries. The collaborative opportunities, efficient training, and innovative solutions that FL brings pave the way for a future where LLMs can truly reach their full potential.

The Bottom Line

The integration of Federated Learning into the lifespan of Large Language Models holds the promise of collaborative opportunities, efficient training, and innovative solutions to challenges posed by these advanced language models.

As organizations navigate the complexities of deploying LLMs, FL stands out as a powerful ally, offering a pathway to overcome hurdles and unlock the enormous potential of these transformative models.


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Dr. Tehseen Zia
Tenured Associate Professor
Dr. Tehseen Zia
Tenured Associate Professor

Dr. Tehseen Zia has Doctorate and more than 10 years of post-Doctorate research experience in Artificial Intelligence (AI). He is Tenured Associate Professor and leads AI research at Comsats University Islamabad, and co-principle investigator in National Center of Artificial Intelligence Pakistan. In the past, he has worked as research consultant on European Union funded AI project Dream4cars.