PocketNN: Integer-only Training and Inference of Neural Networks via Direct Feedback Alignment and Pocket Activations in Pure C++

Jaewoo Song, Fangzhen Lin

Standard deep learning algorithms are implemented using floating-point real numbers. This presents an obstacle for implementing them on low-end devices which may not have dedicated floating-point units (FPUs). As a result, researchers in TinyML have considered machine learning algorithms that can train and run a deep neural network (DNN) on a low-end device using integer operations only. In this paper we propose PocketNN, a light and self-contained proof-of-concept framework in pure C++ for the training and inference of DNNs using only integers. Unlike other approaches, PocketNN directly operates on integers without requiring any explicit quantization algorithms or customized fixed-point formats. This was made possible by pocket activations, which are a family of activation functions devised for integer-only DNNs, and an emerging DNN training algorithm called direct feedback alignment (DFA). Unlike the standard backpropagation (BP), DFA trains each layer independently, thus avoiding integer overflow which is a key problem when using BP with integer-only operations. We used PocketNN to train some DNNs on two well-known datasets, MNIST and Fashion-MNIST. Our experiments show that the DNNs trained with our PocketNN achieved 96.98% and 87.7% accuracies on MNIST and Fashion-MNIST datasets, respectively. The accuracies are very close to the equivalent DNNs trained using BP with floating-point real number operations, such that accuracy degradations were just 1.02%p and 2.09%p, respectively. Finally, our PocketNN has high compatibility and portability for low-end devices as it is open source and implemented in pure C++ without any dependencies.

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