Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track
Yudong Chen, Sen Wang, Jiajun Liu, Xuwei Xu, Frank de Hoog, Zi Huang
In knowledge distillation, previous feature distillation methods mainly focus on the design of loss functions and the selection of the distilled layers, while the effect of the feature projector between the student and the teacher remains under-explored. In this paper, we first discuss a plausible mechanism of the projector with empirical evidence and then propose a new feature distillation method based on a projector ensemble for further performance improvement. We observe that the student network benefits from a projector even if the feature dimensions of the student and the teacher are the same. Training a student backbone without a projector can be considered as a multi-task learning process, namely achieving discriminative feature extraction for classification and feature matching between the student and the teacher for distillation at the same time. We hypothesize and empirically verify that without a projector, the student network tends to overfit the teacher's feature distributions despite having different architecture and weights initialization. This leads to degradation on the quality of the student's deep features that are eventually used in classification. Adding a projector, on the other hand, disentangles the two learning tasks and helps the student network to focus better on the main feature extraction task while still being able to utilize teacher features as a guidance through the projector. Motivated by the positive effect of the projector in feature distillation, we propose an ensemble of projectors to further improve the quality of student features. Experimental results on different datasets with a series of teacher-student pairs illustrate the effectiveness of the proposed method. Code is available at https://github.com/chenyd7/PEFD.