Backprop with Approximate Activations for Memory-efficient Network Training

Sep 27, 2018 ICLR 2019 Conference Blind Submission readers: everyone Show Bibtex
  • Abstract: With innovations in architecture design, deeper and wider neural network models deliver improved performance on a diverse variety of tasks. But the increased memory footprint of these models presents a challenge during training, when all intermediate layer activations need to be stored for back-propagation. Limited GPU memory forces practitioners to make sub-optimal choices: either train inefficiently with smaller batches of examples; or limit the architecture to have lower depth and width, and fewer layers at higher spatial resolutions. This work introduces an approximation strategy that significantly reduces a network's memory footprint during training, but has negligible effect on training performance and computational expense. During the forward pass, we replace activations with lower-precision approximations immediately after they have been used by subsequent layers, thus freeing up memory. The approximate activations are then used during the backward pass. This approach limits the accumulation of errors across the forward and backward pass---because the forward computation across the network still happens at full precision, and the approximation has a limited effect when computing gradients to a layer's input. Experiments, on CIFAR and ImageNet, show that using our approach with 8- and even 4-bit fixed-point approximations of 32-bit floating-point activations has only a minor effect on training and validation performance, while affording significant savings in memory usage.
  • Keywords: Back-propagation, Memory Efficient Training, Approximate Gradients, Deep Learning
  • TL;DR: An algorithm to reduce the amount of memory required for training deep networks, based on an approximation strategy.
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