Randomized Automatic Differentiation

NeurIPS 2020

The successes of deep learning, variational inference, and many other fields have been aided by specialized implementations of reverse-mode automatic differentiation (AD) to compute gradients of mega-dimensional objectives. The AD techniques underlying these tools were designed to compute exact gradients to numerical precision, but modern machine learning models are almost always trained with stochastic gradient descent. Why spend computation and memory on exact (minibatch) gradients only to use them for stochastic optimization? We develop a general framework and approach for randomized automatic differentiation (RAD), which can allow unbiased gradient estimates to be computed with reduced memory in return for variance. We examine limitations of the general approach, and argue that we must leverage problem specific structure to realize benefits. We develop RAD techniques for a variety of simple neural network architectures, and show that for a fixed memory budget, RAD converges in fewer iterations than using a small batch size for feedforward networks, and in a similar number for recurrent networks. We also show that RAD can be applied to scientific computing, and use it to develop a low-memory stochastic gradient method for optimizing the control parameters of a linear reaction-diffusion PDE representing a fission reactor. Speakers: Deniz Oktay, Nick McGreivy, Joshua Aduol, Alex Beatson, Ryan P. Adams