Positive/Negative Approximate Multipliers for DNN Accelerators

Ourania Spantidi, Georgios Zervakis, Iraklis Anagnostopoulos, Hussam Amrouch, Jörg Henkel

Recent Deep Neural Networks (DNNs) managed to deliver superhuman accuracy levels on many AI tasks. Several applications rely more and more on DNNs to deliver sophisticated services and DNN accelerators are becoming integral components of modern systems-on-chips. DNNs perform millions of arithmetic operations per inference and DNN accelerators integrate thousands of multiply-accumulate units leading to increased energy requirements. Approximate computing principles are employed to significantly lower the energy consumption of DNN accelerators at the cost of some accuracy loss. Nevertheless, recent research demonstrated that complex DNNs are increasingly sensitive to approximation. Hence, the obtained energy savings are often limited when targeting tight accuracy constraints. In this work, we present a dynamically configurable approximate multiplier that supports three operation modes, i.e., exact, positive error, and negative error. In addition, we propose a filter-oriented approximation method to map the weights to the appropriate modes of the approximate multiplier. Our mapping algorithm balances the positive with the negative errors due to the approximate multiplications, aiming at maximizing the energy reduction while minimizing the overall convolution error. We evaluate our approach on multiple DNNs and datasets against state-of-the-art approaches, where our method achieves 18.33% energy gains on average across 7 NNs on 4 different datasets for a maximum accuracy drop of only 1%.

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