Drawing Robust Scratch Tickets: Subnetworks with Inborn Robustness Are Found within Randomly Initialized Networks

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Authors

Yonggan Fu, Qixuan Yu, Yang Zhang, Shang Wu, Xu Ouyang, David Cox, Yingyan Lin

Abstract

Deep Neural Networks (DNNs) are known to be vulnerable to adversarial attacks, i.e., an imperceptible perturbation to the input can mislead DNNs trained on clean images into making erroneous predictions. To tackle this, adversarial training is currently the most effective defense method, by augmenting the training set with adversarial samples generated on the fly. \textbf{Interestingly, we discover for the first time that there exist subnetworks with inborn robustness, matching or surpassing the robust accuracy of the adversarially trained networks with comparable model sizes, within randomly initialized networks without any model training}, indicating that adversarial training on model weights is not indispensable towards adversarial robustness. We name such subnetworks Robust Scratch Tickets (RSTs), which are also by nature efficient. Distinct from the popular lottery ticket hypothesis, neither the original dense networks nor the identified RSTs need to be trained. To validate and understand this fascinating finding, we further conduct extensive experiments to study the existence and properties of RSTs under different models, datasets, sparsity patterns, and attacks, drawing insights regarding the relationship between DNNs’ robustness and their initialization/overparameterization. Furthermore, we identify the poor adversarial transferability between RSTs of different sparsity ratios drawn from the same randomly initialized dense network, and propose a Random RST Switch (R2S) technique, which randomly switches between different RSTs, as a novel defense method built on top of RSTs. We believe our findings about RSTs have opened up a new perspective to study model robustness and extend the lottery ticket hypothesis.