Binary neural networks using the Straight-Through-Estimator (STE) have been shown to achieve state-of-the-art results, but their training process is not well-founded. This is due to the discrepancy between the evaluated function in the forward path, and the weight updates in the back-propagation, updates which do not correspond to gradients of the forward path. Efficient convergence and accuracy of binary models often rely on careful fine-tuning and various ad-hoc techniques. In this work, we empirically identify and study the effectiveness of the various ad-hoc techniques commonly used in the literature, providing best-practices for efficient training of binary models. We show that adapting learning rates using second moment methods is crucial for the successful use of the STE, and that other optimisers can easily get stuck in local minima. We also find that many of the commonly employed tricks are only effective towards the end of the training, with these methods making early stages of the training considerably slower. Our analysis disambiguates necessary from unnecessary ad-hoc techniques for training of binary neural networks, paving the way for future development of solid theoretical foundations for these. Our newly-found insights further lead to new procedures which make training of existing binary neural networks notably faster.
Milad Alizadeh, Javier Fernández-Marqués, Nicholas D. Lane, Yarin Gal
International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR), 2019