Provably efficient lottery ticket discovery


The lottery ticket hypothesis (LTH) claims that randomly-initialized, dense neural networks contain (sparse) subnetworks that, when trained an equal amount in isolation, can match the dense network’s performance. Although LTH is useful for discovering efficient network architectures, its three-step process – pre-training, pruning, and re-training – is computationally expensive, as the dense model must be fully pre-trained. Luckily, “early-bird” tickets can be discovered within neural networks that are minimally pre-trained, allowing for the creation of efficient, LTH-inspired training procedures. Yet, no theoretical foundation of this phenomenon exists. We derive an analytical bound for the number of pre-training iterations that must be performed for a winning ticket to be discovered, thus providing a theoretical understanding of when and why such early-bird tickets exist. By adopting a greedy forward selection pruning strategy, we directly connect the pruned network’s performance to the loss of the dense network from which it was derived, revealing a threshold in the number of pre-training iterations beyond which high-performing subnetworks are guaranteed to exist. We demonstrate the validity of our theoretical results across a variety of architectures and datasets, including multi-layer perceptrons (MLPs) trained on MNIST and several deep convolutional neural network (CNN) architectures trained on CIFAR10 and ImageNet.

Under review