The Combinatorial Brain Surgeon: Pruning Weights That Cancel One Another in Neural Networks

Publication Date



Thirty-Ninth International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML 2022)


Neural networks tend to achieve better accuracy with training if they are larger -- even if the resulting models are overparameterized. Nevertheless, carefully removing such excess parameters before, during, or after training may also produce models with similar or even improved accuracy. In many cases, that can be curiously achieved by heuristics as simple as removing a percentage of the weights with the smallest absolute value -- even though magnitude is not a perfect proxy for weight relevance. With the premise that obtaining significantly better performance from pruning depends on accounting for the combined effect of removing multiple weights, we revisit one of the classic approaches for impact-based pruning: the Optimal Brain Surgeon(OBS). We propose a tractable heuristic for solving the combinatorial extension of OBS, in which we select weights for simultaneous removal, as well as a systematic update of the remaining weights. Our selection method outperforms other methods under high sparsity, and the weight update is advantageous even when combined with the other methods.


Conference Paper


Analytics & Operations Management