Block-Sparse Recurrent Neural Networks

Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) are used in state-of-the-art models in domains such as speech recognition, machine translation, and language modelling. Sparsity is a technique to reduce compute and memory requirements of deep learning models. Sparse RNNs are easier to deploy on devices and high-end server processors. Even though sparse operations need less compute and memory relative to their dense counterparts, the speed-up observed by using sparse operations is less than expected on different hardware platforms. In order to address this issue, we investigate two different approaches to induce block sparsity in RNNs: pruning blocks of weights in a layer and using group lasso regularization to create blocks of weights with zeros. Using these techniques, we demonstrate that we can create block-sparse RNNs with sparsity ranging from 80% to 90% with small loss in accuracy. This allows us to reduce the model size by roughly 10x. Additionally, we can prune a larger dense network to recover this loss in accuracy while maintaining high block sparsity and reducing the overall parameter count. Our technique works with a variety of block sizes up to 32x32. Block-sparse RNNs eliminate overheads related to data storage and irregular memory accesses while increasing hardware efficiency compared to unstructured sparsity.

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