Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)
Ekdeep S Lubana, Robert Dick, Hidenori Tanaka
Inspired by BatchNorm, there has been an explosion of normalization layers in deep learning. Recent works have identified a multitude of beneficial properties in BatchNorm to explain its success. However, given the pursuit of alternative normalization layers, these properties need to be generalized so that any given layer's success/failure can be accurately predicted. In this work, we take a first step towards this goal by extending known properties of BatchNorm in randomly initialized deep neural networks (DNNs) to several recently proposed normalization layers. Our primary findings follow: (i) similar to BatchNorm, activations-based normalization layers can prevent exponential growth of activations in ResNets, but parametric techniques require explicit remedies; (ii) use of GroupNorm can ensure an informative forward propagation, with different samples being assigned dissimilar activations, but increasing group size results in increasingly indistinguishable activations for different samples, explaining slow convergence speed in models with LayerNorm; and (iii) small group sizes result in large gradient norm in earlier layers, hence explaining training instability issues in Instance Normalization and illustrating a speed-stability tradeoff in GroupNorm. Overall, our analysis reveals a unified set of mechanisms that underpin the success of normalization methods in deep learning, providing us with a compass to systematically explore the vast design space of DNN normalization layers.