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  1. Pruning the parameters of deep neural networks has generated intense interest due to potential savings in time, memory and energy both during training and at test time. Recent works have identified, through an expensive sequence of training and pruning cycles, the existence of winning lottery tickets or sparse trainable subnetworks at initialization. This raises a foundational question: can we identify highly sparse trainable subnetworks at initialization, without ever training, or indeed without ever looking at the data? We provide an affirmative answer to this question through theory driven algorithm design. We first mathematically formulate and experimentally verify a conservation law that explains why existing gradient-based pruning algorithms at initialization suffer from layer-collapse, the premature pruning of an entire layer rendering a network untrainable. This theory also elucidates how layer-collapse can be entirely avoided, motivating a novel pruning algorithm Iterative Synaptic Flow Pruning (SynFlow). This algorithm can be interpreted as preserving the total flow of synaptic strengths through the network at initialization subject to a sparsity constraint. Notably, this algorithm makes no reference to the training data and consistently competes with or outperforms existing state-of-the-art pruning algorithms at initialization over a range of models (VGG and ResNet), datasets (CIFAR-10/100 and Tinymore »ImageNet), and sparsity constraints (up to 99.99 percent). Thus our data-agnostic pruning algorithm challenges the existing paradigm that, at initialization, data must be used to quantify which synapses are important.« less
  2. The neural plausibility of backpropagation has long been disputed, primarily for its use of non-local weight transport — the biologically dubious requirement that one neuron instantaneously measure the synaptic weights of another. Until recently, attempts to create local learning rules that avoid weight transport have typically failed in the large-scale learning scenarios where backpropagation shines, e.g. ImageNet categorization with deep convolutional networks. Here, we investigate a recently proposed local learning rule that yields competitive performance with backpropagation and find that it is highly sensitive to metaparameter choices, requiring laborious tuning that does not transfer across network architecture. Our analysis indicates the underlying mathematical reason for this instability, allowing us to identify a more robust local learning rule that better transfers without metaparameter tuning. Nonetheless, we find a performance and stability gap between this local rule and backpropagation that widens with increasing model depth. We then investigate several non-local learning rules that relax the need for instantaneous weight transport into a more biologically-plausible "weight estimation" process, showing that these rules match state-of-the-art performance on deep networks and operate effectively in the presence of noisy updates. Taken together, our results suggest two routes towards the discovery of neural implementations for credit assignmentmore »without weight symmetry: further improvement of local rules so that they perform consistently across architectures and the identification of biological implementations for non-local learning mechanisms.« less