Ensemble Distillation for Robust Model Fusion in Federated Learning

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

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Tao Lin, Lingjing Kong, Sebastian U. Stich, Martin Jaggi


Federated Learning (FL) is a machine learning setting where many devices collaboratively train a machine learning model while keeping the training data decentralized. In most of the current training schemes the central model is refined by averaging the parameters of the server model and the updated parameters from the client side. However, directly averaging model parameters is only possible if all models have the same structure and size, which could be a restrictive constraint in many scenarios.

In this work we investigate more powerful and more flexible aggregation schemes for FL. Specifically, we propose ensemble distillation for model fusion, i.e. training the central classifier through unlabeled data on the outputs of the models from the clients. This knowledge distillation technique mitigates privacy risk and cost to the same extent as the baseline FL algorithms, but allows flexible aggregation over heterogeneous client models that can differ e.g. in size, numerical precision or structure. We show in extensive empirical experiments on various CV/NLP datasets (CIFAR-10/100, ImageNet, AG News, SST2) and settings (heterogeneous models/data) that the server model can be trained much faster, requiring fewer communication rounds than any existing FL technique so far.