Directional Pruning of Deep Neural Networks

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

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Shih-Kang Chao, Zhanyu Wang, Yue Xing, Guang Cheng


In the light of the fact that the stochastic gradient descent (SGD) often finds a flat minimum valley in the training loss, we propose a novel directional pruning method which searches for a sparse minimizer in or close to that flat region. The proposed pruning method does not require retraining or the expert knowledge on the sparsity level. To overcome the computational formidability of estimating the flat directions, we propose to use a carefully tuned $\ell_1$ proximal gradient algorithm which can provably achieve the directional pruning with a small learning rate after sufficient training. The empirical results demonstrate the promising results of our solution in highly sparse regime (92% sparsity) among many existing pruning methods on the ResNet50 with the ImageNet, while using only a slightly higher wall time and memory footprint than the SGD. Using the VGG16 and the wide ResNet 28x10 on the CIFAR-10 and CIFAR-100, we demonstrate that our solution reaches the same minima valley as the SGD, and the minima found by our solution and the SGD do not deviate in directions that impact the training loss. The code that reproduces the results of this paper is available at