Training Deep Neural Networks with 8-bit Floating Point Numbers

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 31 (NeurIPS 2018)

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Naigang Wang, Jungwook Choi, Daniel Brand, Chia-Yu Chen, Kailash Gopalakrishnan


The state-of-the-art hardware platforms for training deep neural networks are moving from traditional single precision (32-bit) computations towards 16 bits of precision - in large part due to the high energy efficiency and smaller bit storage associated with using reduced-precision representations. However, unlike inference, training with numbers represented with less than 16 bits has been challenging due to the need to maintain fidelity of the gradient computations during back-propagation. Here we demonstrate, for the first time, the successful training of deep neural networks using 8-bit floating point numbers while fully maintaining the accuracy on a spectrum of deep learning models and datasets. In addition to reducing the data and computation precision to 8 bits, we also successfully reduce the arithmetic precision for additions (used in partial product accumulation and weight updates) from 32 bits to 16 bits through the introduction of a number of key ideas including chunk-based accumulation and floating point stochastic rounding. The use of these novel techniques lays the foundation for a new generation of hardware training platforms with the potential for 2-4 times improved throughput over today's systems.