Path Sample-Analytic Gradient Estimators for Stochastic Binary Networks

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Alexander Shekhovtsov, Viktor Yanush, Boris Flach


In neural networks with binary activations and or binary weights the training by gradient descent is complicated as the model has piecewise constant response. We consider stochastic binary networks, obtained by adding noises in front of activations. The expected model response becomes a smooth function of parameters, its gradient is well defined but it is challenging to estimate it accurately. We propose a new method for this estimation problem combining sampling and analytic approximation steps. The method has a significantly reduced variance at the price of a small bias which gives a very practical tradeoff in comparison with existing unbiased and biased estimators. We further show that one extra linearization step leads to a deep straight-through estimator previously known only as an ad-hoc heuristic. We experimentally show higher accuracy in gradient estimation and demonstrate a more stable and better performing training in deep convolutional models with both proposed methods.