The Generalization-Stability Tradeoff in Neural Network Pruning

Brian R. Bartoldson, Ari S. Morcos, Adrian Barbu, Gordon Erlebacher

Pruning neural network parameters is often viewed as a means to compress models, but pruning has also been motivated by the desire to prevent overfitting. This motivation is particularly relevant given the perhaps surprising observation that a wide variety of pruning approaches increase test accuracy despite sometimes massive reductions in parameter counts. To better understand this phenomenon, we analyze the behavior of pruning over the course of training, finding that pruning's effect on generalization relies more on the instability it generates (defined as the drops in test accuracy immediately following pruning) than on the final size of the pruned model. We demonstrate that even the pruning of unimportant parameters can lead to such instability, and show similarities between pruning and regularizing by injecting noise, suggesting a mechanism for pruning-based generalization improvements that is compatible with the strong generalization recently observed in over-parameterized networks.

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