Carlos Perez's blog entry on Medium entitled Deep Learning: The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Randomness just led me to the following paper I had not read before (probably because it came out during NIPS). I also added the latest version of Arild Nokland's earlier paper on a similar idea that was itself published at NIPS (and featured on Nuit Blanche).
Learning in the Machine: Random Backpropagation and the Learning Channel by Pierre Baldi, Peter Sadowski, Zhiqin Lu
Random backpropagation (RBP) is a variant of the backpropagation algorithm for training neural networks, where the transpose of the forward matrices are replaced by fixed random matrices in the calculation of the weight updates. It is remarkable both because of its effectiveness, in spite of using random matrices to communicate error information, and because it completely removes the taxing requirement of maintaining symmetric weights in a physical neural system. To better understand random backpropagation, we first connect it to the notions of local learning and the learning channel. Through this connection, we derive several alternatives to RBP, including skipped RBP (SRPB), adaptive RBP (ARBP), sparse RBP, and their combinations (e.g. ASRBP) and analyze their computational complexity. We then study their behavior through simulations using the MNIST and CIFAR-10 bechnmark datasets. These simulations show that most of these variants work robustly, almost as well as backpropagation, and that multiplication by the derivatives of the activation functions is important. As a follow-up, we study also the low-end of the number of bits required to communicate error information over the learning channel. We then provide partial intuitive explanations for some of the remarkable properties of RBP and its variations. Finally, we prove several mathematical results, including the convergence to fixed points of linear chains of arbitrary length, the convergence to fixed points of linear autoencoders with decorrelated data, the long-term existence of solutions for linear systems with a single hidden layer, and the convergence to fixed points of non-linear chains, when the derivative of the activation functions is included.
Artificial neural networks are most commonly trained with the back-propagation algorithm, where the gradient for learning is provided by back-propagating the error, layer by layer, from the output layer to the hidden layers. A recently discovered method called feedback-alignment shows that the weights used for propagating the error backward don't have to be symmetric with the weights used for propagation the activation forward. In fact, random feedback weights work evenly well, because the network learns how to make the feedback useful. In this work, the feedback alignment principle is used for training hidden layers more independently from the rest of the network, and from a zero initial condition. The error is propagated through fixed random feedback connections directly from the output layer to each hidden layer. This simple method is able to achieve zero training error even in convolutional networks and very deep networks, completely without error back-propagation. The method is a step towards biologically plausible machine learning because the error signal is almost local, and no symmetric or reciprocal weights are required. Experiments show that the test performance on MNIST and CIFAR is almost as good as those obtained with back-propagation for fully connected networks. If combined with dropout, the method achieves 1.45% error on the permutation invariant MNIST task.
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