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TL;DR: signal propagation theory applied to continuous surrogates of binary nets; counter intuitive initialisation; reparameterisation trick not helpful
Abstract: The training of stochastic neural network models with binary ($\pm1$) weights and activations via continuous surrogate networks is investigated. We derive new surrogates using a novel derivation based on writing the stochastic neural network as a Markov chain. This derivation also encompasses existing variants of the surrogates presented in the literature. Following this, we theoretically study the surrogates at initialisation. We derive, using mean field theory, a set of scalar equations describing how input signals propagate through the randomly initialised networks. The equations reveal whether so-called critical initialisations exist for each surrogate network, where the network can be trained to arbitrary depth. Moreover, we predict theoretically and confirm numerically, that common weight initialisation schemes used in standard continuous networks, when applied to the mean values of the stochastic binary weights, yield poor training performance. This study shows that, contrary to common intuition, the means of the stochastic binary weights should be initialised close to $\pm 1$, for deeper networks to be trainable.