DominoSearch: Find layer-wise fine-grained N:M sparse schemes from dense neural networks

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

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Wei Sun, Aojun Zhou, Sander Stuijk, Rob Wijnhoven, Andrew Oakleigh Nelson, hongsheng Li, Henk Corporaal


Neural pruning is a widely-used compression technique for Deep Neural Networks (DNNs). Recent innovations in Hardware Architectures (e.g. Nvidia Ampere Sparse Tensor Core) and N:M fine-grained Sparse Neural Network algorithms (i.e. every M-weights contains N non-zero values) reveal a promising research line of neural pruning. However, the existing N:M algorithms only address the challenge of how to train N:M sparse neural networks in a uniform fashion (i.e. every layer has the same N:M sparsity) and suffer from a significant accuracy drop for high sparsity (i.e. when sparsity > 80\%). To tackle this problem, we present a novel technique -- \textbf{\textit{DominoSearch}} to find mixed N:M sparsity schemes from pre-trained dense deep neural networks to achieve higher accuracy than the uniform-sparsity scheme with equivalent complexity constraints (e.g. model size or FLOPs). For instance, for the same model size with 2.1M parameters (87.5\% sparsity), our layer-wise N:M sparse ResNet18 outperforms its uniform counterpart by 2.1\% top-1 accuracy, on the large-scale ImageNet dataset. For the same computational complexity of 227M FLOPs, our layer-wise sparse ResNet18 outperforms the uniform one by 1.3\% top-1 accuracy. Furthermore, our layer-wise fine-grained N:M sparse ResNet50 achieves 76.7\% top-1 accuracy with 5.0M parameters. {This is competitive to the results achieved by layer-wise unstructured sparsity} that is believed to be the upper-bound of Neural Network pruning with respect to the accuracy-sparsity trade-off. We believe that our work can build a strong baseline for further sparse DNN research and encourage future hardware-algorithm co-design work. Our code and models are publicly available at \url{}.