Winning the Lottery with Continuous Sparsification

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

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Pedro Savarese, Hugo Silva, Michael Maire


The search for efficient, sparse deep neural network models is most prominently performed by pruning: training a dense, overparameterized network and removing parameters, usually via following a manually-crafted heuristic. Additionally, the recent Lottery Ticket Hypothesis conjectures that, for a typically-sized neural network, it is possible to find small sub-networks which, when trained from scratch on a comparable budget, match the performance of the original dense counterpart. We revisit fundamental aspects of pruning algorithms, pointing out missing ingredients in previous approaches, and develop a method, Continuous Sparsification, which searches for sparse networks based on a novel approximation of an intractable $\ell_0$ regularization. We compare against dominant heuristic-based methods on pruning as well as ticket search -- finding sparse subnetworks that can be successfully re-trained from an early iterate. Empirical results show that we surpass the state-of-the-art for both objectives, across models and datasets, including VGG trained on CIFAR-10 and ResNet-50 trained on ImageNet. In addition to setting a new standard for pruning, Continuous Sparsification also offers fast parallel ticket search, opening doors to new applications of the Lottery Ticket Hypothesis.