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Energy-based learning algorithms for analog computing: a comparative study

Benjamin Scellier · Maxence Ernoult · Jack Kendall · Suhas Kumar

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #1111
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Thu 14 Dec 8:45 a.m. PST — 10:45 a.m. PST


Energy-based learning algorithms have recently gained a surge of interest due to their compatibility with analog (post-digital) hardware. Existing algorithms include contrastive learning (CL), equilibrium propagation (EP) and coupled learning (CpL), all consisting in contrasting two states, and differing in the type of perturbation used to obtain the second state from the first one. However, these algorithms have never been explicitly compared on equal footing with same models and datasets, making it difficult to assess their scalability and decide which one to select in practice. In this work, we carry out a comparison of seven learning algorithms, namely CL and different variants of EP and CpL depending on the signs of the perturbations. Specifically, using these learning algorithms, we train deep convolutional Hopfield networks (DCHNs) on five vision tasks (MNIST, F-MNIST, SVHN, CIFAR-10 and CIFAR-100). We find that, while all algorithms yield comparable performance on MNIST, important differences in performance arise as the difficulty of the task increases. Our key findings reveal that negative perturbations are better than positive ones, and highlight the centered variant of EP (which uses two perturbations of opposite sign) as the best-performing algorithm. We also endorse these findings with theoretical arguments. Additionally, we establish new SOTA results with DCHNs on all five datasets, both in performance and speed. In particular, our DCHN simulations are 13.5 times faster with respect to Laborieux et al. (2021), which we achieve thanks to the use of a novel energy minimisation algorithm based on asynchronous updates, combined with reduced precision (16 bits).

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