Sparsity in Deep Neural Networks (DNNs) is studied extensively with the focus of maximizing prediction accuracy given an overall parameter budget. Existing methods rely on uniform or heuristic non-uniform sparsity budgets which have sub-optimal layer-wise parameter allocation resulting in a) lower prediction accuracy or b) higher inference cost (FLOPs). This work proposes Soft Threshold Reparameterization (STR), a novel use of the soft-threshold operator on DNN weights. STR smoothly induces sparsity while learning pruning thresholds thereby obtaining a non-uniform sparsity budget. Our method achieves state-of-the-art accuracy for unstructured sparsity in CNNs (ResNet50 and MobileNetV1 on ImageNet-1K), and, additionally, learns non-uniform budgets that empirically reduce the FLOPs by up to 50%. Notably, STR boosts the accuracy over existing results by up to 10% in the ultra sparse (99%) regime and can also be used to induce low-rank (structured sparsity) in RNNs. In short, STR is a simple mechanism which learns effective sparsity budgets that contrast with popular heuristics.
The paper has been accepted at the ICML 2020.
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