Spotlight

Training Your Sparse Neural Network Better with Any Mask

Ajay Jaiswal · Haoyu Ma · Tianlong Chen · Ying Ding · Zhangyang “Atlas” Wang

Ballroom 1 & 2

Pruning large neural networks to create high-quality, independently trainable sparse masks, which can maintain similar performance to their dense counterparts, is very desirable due to the reduced space and time complexity. As research effort is focused on increasingly sophisticated pruning methods that leads to sparse subnetworks trainable from the scratch, we argue for an orthogonal, under-explored theme: improving training techniques for pruned sub-networks, i.e. sparse training. Apart from the popular belief that only the quality of sparse masks matters for sparse training, in this paper we demonstrate an alternative opportunity: one can carefully customize the sparse training techniques to deviate from the default dense network training protocols, consisting of introducing ``ghost" neurons and skip connections at the early stage of training, and strategically modifying the initialization as well as labels. Our new sparse training recipe is generally applicable to improving training from scratch with various sparse masks. By adopting our newly curated techniques, we demonstrate significant performance gains across various popular datasets (CIFAR-10, CIFAR-100, TinyImageNet), architectures (ResNet-18/32/104, Vgg16, MobileNet), and sparse mask options (lottery ticket, SNIP/GRASP, SynFlow, or even randomly pruning), compared to the default training protocols, especially at high sparsity levels. Codes will be publicly available.

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