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AutoML and Deep Architecture

Moderator: Frank Hutter

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Tue 20 July 6:00 - 6:20 PDT

Neural Architecture Search without Training

Joe Mellor · Jack Turner · Amos Storkey · Elliot Crowley

The time and effort involved in hand-designing deep neural networks is immense. This has prompted the development of Neural Architecture Search (NAS) techniques to automate this design. However, NAS algorithms tend to be slow and expensive; they need to train vast numbers of candidate networks to inform the search process. This could be alleviated if we could partially predict a network's trained accuracy from its initial state. In this work, we examine the overlap of activations between datapoints in untrained networks and motivate how this can give a measure which is usefully indicative of a network’s trained performance. We incorporate this measure into a simple algorithm that allows us to search for powerful networks without any training in a matter of seconds on a single GPU, and verify its effectiveness on NAS-Bench-101, NAS-Bench-201, NATS-Bench, and Network Design Spaces. Our approach can be readily combined with more expensive search methods; we examine a simple adaptation of regularised evolutionary search. Code for reproducing our experiments is available at

Tue 20 July 6:20 - 6:25 PDT

Is Space-Time Attention All You Need for Video Understanding?

Gedas Bertasius · Heng Wang · Lorenzo Torresani

We present a convolution-free approach to video classification built exclusively on self-attention over space and time. Our method, named TimeSformer,'' adapts the standard Transformer architecture to video by enabling spatiotemporal feature learning directly from a sequence of frame-level patches. Our experimental study compares different self-attention schemes and suggests thatdivided attention,'' where temporal attention and spatial attention are separately applied within each block, leads to the best video classification accuracy among the design choices considered. Despite the radically new design, TimeSformer achieves state-of-the-art results on several action recognition benchmarks, including the best reported accuracy on Kinetics-400 and Kinetics-600. Finally, compared to 3D convolutional networks, our model is faster to train, it can achieve dramatically higher test efficiency (at a small drop in accuracy), and it can also be applied to much longer video clips (over one minute long). Code and models are available at:

Tue 20 July 6:25 - 6:30 PDT

A Probabilistic Approach to Neural Network Pruning

Xin Qian · Diego Klabjan

Neural network pruning techniques reduce the number of parameters without compromising predicting ability of a network. Many algorithms have been developed for pruning both over-parameterized fully-connected networks (FCN) and convolutional neural networks (CNN), but analytical studies of capabilities and compression ratios of such pruned sub-networks are lacking. We theoretically study the performance of two pruning techniques (random and magnitude-based) on FCN and CNN. Given a target network, we provide a universal approach to bound the gap between a pruned and the target network in a probabilistic sense, which is the first study of this nature. The results establish that there exist pruned networks with expressive power within any specified bound from the target network and with a significant compression ratio.

Tue 20 July 6:30 - 6:35 PDT

KNAS: Green Neural Architecture Search

Jingjing Xu · Liang Zhao · Junyang Lin · Rundong Gao · Xu SUN · Hongxia Yang

Many existing neural architecture search (NAS) solutions rely on downstream training for architecture evaluation, which takes enormous computations. Considering that these computations bring a large carbon footprint, this paper aims to explore a green (namely environmental-friendly) NAS solution that evaluates architectures without training. Intuitively, gradients, induced by the architecture itself, directly decide the convergence and generalization results. It motivates us to propose the gradient kernel hypothesis: Gradients can be used as a coarse-grained proxy of downstream training to evaluate random-initialized networks. To support the hypothesis, we conduct a theoretical analysis and find a practical gradient kernel that has good correlations with training loss and validation performance. According to this hypothesis, we propose a new kernel based architecture search approach KNAS. Experiments show that KNAS achieves competitive results with orders of magnitude faster than ``train-then-test'' paradigms on image classification tasks. Furthermore, the extremely low search cost enables its wide applications. The searched network also outperforms strong baseline RoBERTA-large on two text classification tasks.

Tue 20 July 6:35 - 6:40 PDT

Efficient Lottery Ticket Finding: Less Data is More

Zhenyu Zhang · Xuxi Chen · Tianlong Chen · Zhangyang “Atlas” Wang

The lottery ticket hypothesis (LTH) reveals the existence of winning tickets (sparse but critical subnetworks) for dense networks, that can be trained in isolation from random initialization to match the latter's accuracies. However, finding winning tickets requires burdensome computations in the train-prune-retrain process, especially on large-scale datasets (e.g., ImageNet), restricting their practical benefits. This paper explores a new perspective on finding lottery tickets more efficiently, by doing so only with a specially selected subset of data, called Pruning-Aware Critical set (PrAC set), rather than using the full training set. The concept of PrAC set was inspired by the recent observation, that deep networks have samples that are either hard to memorize during training, or easy to forget during pruning. A PrAC set is thus hypothesized to capture those most challenging and informative examples for the dense model. We observe that a high-quality winning ticket can be found with training and pruning the dense network on the very compact PrAC set, which can substantially save training iterations for the ticket finding process. Extensive experiments validate our proposal across diverse datasets and network architectures. Specifically, on CIFAR-10, CIFAR-100, and Tiny ImageNet, we locate effective PrAC sets at 35.32%~78.19% of their training set sizes. On top of them, we can obtain the same competitive winning tickets for the corresponding dense networks, yet saving up to 82.85%~92.77%, 63.54%~74.92%, and 76.14%~86.56% training iterations, respectively. Crucially, we show that a PrAC set found is reusable across different network architectures, which can amortize the extra cost of finding PrAC sets, yielding a practical regime for efficient lottery ticket finding.

Tue 20 July 6:40 - 6:45 PDT

ConViT: Improving Vision Transformers with Soft Convolutional Inductive Biases

Stéphane d'Ascoli · Hugo Touvron · Matthew Leavitt · Ari Morcos · Giulio Biroli · Levent Sagun

Convolutional architectures have proven extremely successful for vision tasks. Their hard inductive biases enable sample-efficient learning, but come at the cost of a potentially lower performance ceiling. Vision Transformers (ViTs) rely on more flexible self-attention layers, and have recently outperformed CNNs for image classification. However, they require costly pre-training on large external datasets or distillation from pre-trained convolutional networks. In this paper, we ask the following question: is it possible to combine the strengths of these two architectures while avoiding their respective limitations? To this end, we introduce gated positional self-attention (GPSA), a form of positional self-attention which can be equipped with a ``soft" convolutional inductive bias. We initialise the GPSA layers to mimic the locality of convolutional layers, then give each attention head the freedom to escape locality by adjusting a gating parameter regulating the attention paid to position versus content information. The resulting convolutional-like ViT architecture, ConViT, outperforms the DeiT on ImageNet, while offering a much improved sample efficiency. We further investigate the role of locality in learning by first quantifying how it is encouraged in vanilla self-attention layers, then analysing how it is escaped in GPSA layers. We conclude by presenting various ablations to better understand the success of the ConViT. Our code and models are released publicly at

Tue 20 July 6:45 - 6:50 PDT

Provably Strict Generalisation Benefit for Equivariant Models

Bryn Elesedy · Sheheryar Zaidi

It is widely believed that engineering a model to be invariant/equivariant improves generalisation. Despite the growing popularity of this approach, a precise characterisation of the generalisation benefit is lacking. By considering the simplest case of linear models, this paper provides the first provably non-zero improvement in generalisation for invariant/equivariant models when the target distribution is invariant/equivariant with respect to a compact group. Moreover, our work reveals an interesting relationship between generalisation, the number of training examples and properties of the group action. Our results rest on an observation of the structure of function spaces under averaging operators which, along with its consequences for feature averaging, may be of independent interest.

Tue 20 July 6:50 - 6:55 PDT