Discovering Neural Wirings

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

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Mitchell Wortsman, Ali Farhadi, Mohammad Rastegari


The success of neural networks has driven a shift in focus from feature engineering to architecture engineering. However, successful networks today are constructed using a small and manually defined set of building blocks. Even in methods of neural architecture search (NAS) the network connectivity patterns are largely constrained. In this work we propose a method for discovering neural wirings. We relax the typical notion of layers and instead enable channels to form connections independent of each other. This allows for a much larger space of possible networks. The wiring of our network is not fixed during training -- as we learn the network parameters we also learn the structure itself. Our experiments demonstrate that our learned connectivity outperforms hand engineered and randomly wired networks. By learning the connectivity of MobileNetV1we boost the ImageNet accuracy by 10% at ~41M FLOPs. Moreover, we show that our method generalizes to recurrent and continuous time networks. Our work may also be regarded as unifying core aspects of the neural architecture search problem with sparse neural network learning. As NAS becomes more fine grained, finding a good architecture is akin to finding a sparse subnetwork of the complete graph. Accordingly, DNW provides an effective mechanism for discovering sparse subnetworks of predefined architectures in a single training run. Though we only ever use a small percentage of the weights during the forward pass, we still play the so-called initialization lottery with a combinatorial number of subnetworks. Code and pretrained models are available at while additional visualizations may be found at