Research Takeaway : Author Outreach!

If you are the author of research for which I've written a 'takeaway' and you would like to comment or clarify - please let me know : I'd be very happy to learn how I can put things right.

This write-up contains first impressions of the paper : Do Deep Nets Really Need to be Deep?


Currently, deep neural networks are the state of the art on problems such as speech recognition and computer vision. In this extended abstract, we show that shallow feed-forward networks can learn the complex functions previously learned by deep nets and achieve accuracies previously only achievable with deep models. Moreover, in some cases the shallow neural nets can learn these deep functions using a total number of parameters similar to the original deep model. We evaluate our method on the TIMIT phoneme recognition task and are able to train shallow fully-connected nets that perform similarly to complex, well-engineered, deep convolutional architectures. Our success in training shallow neural nets to mimic deeper models suggests that there probably exist better algorithms for training shallow feed-forward nets than those currently available.

Question Marks

The intuitions given in the paper extended abstract are tempting :

  • deep networks are better for learning than shallow networks
  • shallow networks don’t actually need more parameters than deep ones
  • shallow networks may be more compressible (?)

Part of the reasoning is :

  • deep networks are better at discovering useful features
  • shallow networks can be helped to learn from the pre-trained deep ones by training them on a processed pre-output layer of a trained deep network (rather than training them on the original labels, which they are known to have difficulty with)

There is talk of a 1000:1 reduction in parameters required to define the network, however it is not demonstrated.

Simple model : Includes Factorization

No doubt, the authors of the paper tried hard to optimise the number of weights that the single layer model used, and are reporting the best outcome they found.

One of the key wins was showing that the O(H*D) model could be O(k*(H+D)) factorizable, with a ‘bottleneck linear layer’ of size k. This factorization had little cost in terms of fit (maybe a benefit in terms of generalization) and a definite win in terms of fit per parameter.

Simple model : Learning from pre-output stage

The intermediate layer that the shallow network is trained on is pre-processed : log(p) is used rather than just p. This is another interesting optimisation that is probably the result of experimentation (with an attractive post-hoc explanation).

Idea : Deep Nets embed an implicit human model of data

Deep-convolutional networks implicitly embed a human-crafted regularisation on the form of the model that is difficult to capture with the same number of parameters in a single layer - but, when enhanced with more data, the model becomes well-specified enough to be learnable, for the given ‘parameter budget’.

Can’t the larger model (which learns from the training set well) simply be used to generate more learning cases for the simple model?

Also interesting

The feature generation aspect of deep learning is also interesting. A deeper network may be able to identify ‘hidden features’ because its hieirarchical structure more directly maps to the nature of the problem space. But, once fitted, the key take-aways can be distilled out for a simpler network to learn. Interesting to think of short-term learning vs long-term memory here too.

Drop-out was ‘critical’ for deep net learning. Drop-out was not used for the shallow net.

Martin Andrews

{Finance, Software, AI} entrepreneur, living in Singapore with my family.

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