Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)
Drew Linsley, Alekh Karkada Ashok, Lakshmi Narasimhan Govindarajan, Rex Liu, Thomas Serre
Primate vision depends on recurrent processing for reliable perception. A growing body of literature also suggests that recurrent connections improve the learning efficiency and generalization of vision models on classic computer vision challenges. Why then, are current large-scale challenges dominated by feedforward networks? We posit that the effectiveness of recurrent vision models is bottlenecked by the standard algorithm used for training them, "back-propagation through time" (BPTT), which has O(N) memory-complexity for training an N step model. Thus, recurrent vision model design is bounded by memory constraints, forcing a choice between rivaling the enormous capacity of leading feedforward models or trying to compensate for this deficit through granular and complex dynamics. Here, we develop a new learning algorithm, "contractor recurrent back-propagation" (C-RBP), which alleviates these issues by achieving constant O(1) memory-complexity with steps of recurrent processing. We demonstrate that recurrent vision models trained with C-RBP can detect long-range spatial dependencies in a synthetic contour tracing task that BPTT-trained models cannot. We further show that recurrent vision models trained with C-RBP to solve the large-scale Panoptic Segmentation MS-COCO challenge outperform the leading feedforward approach, with fewer free parameters. C-RBP is a general-purpose learning algorithm for any application that can benefit from expansive recurrent dynamics. Code and data are available at https://github.com/c-rbp.