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Workshop: OPT 2022: Optimization for Machine Learning

ZerO Initialization: Initializing Neural Networks with only Zeros and Ones

Jiawei Zhao · Florian Schaefer · Anima Anandkumar


Deep neural networks are usually initialized with random weights, with adequately selected initial variance to ensure stable signal propagation during training. However, selecting the appropriate variance becomes challenging especially as the number of layers grows. In this work, we replace random weight initialization with a fully deterministic initialization scheme, viz., ZerO, which initializes the weights of networks with only zeros and ones (up to a normalization factor), based on identity and Hadamard transforms. Through both theoretical and empirical studies, we demonstrate that ZerO is able to train networks without damaging their expressivity. Applying ZerO on ResNet achieves state-of-the-art performance on various datasets, including ImageNet, which suggests random weights may be unnecessary for network initialization. In addition, ZerO has many benefits, such as training ultra deep networks (without batch-normalization), exhibiting low-rank learning trajectories that result in low-rank and sparse solutions, and improving training reproducibility.

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