Weak NAS Predictor Is All You Need

Neural Architecture Search (NAS) finds the best network architecture by exploring the architecture-to-performance manifold. It often trains and evaluates a large amount of architectures, causing tremendous computation cost. Recent predictor-based NAS approaches attempt to solve this problem with two key steps: sampling some architecture-performance pairs and fitting a proxy accuracy predictor. Existing predictors attempt to model the performance distribution over the whole architecture space, which could be too challenging given limited samples. Instead, we envision that this ambitious goal may not be necessary if the final aim is to find the best architecture. We present a novel framework to estimate weak predictors progressively. Rather than expecting a single strong predictor to model the whole space, we seek a progressive line of weak predictors that can connect a path to the best architecture, thus greatly simplifying the learning task of each predictor. It is based on the key property of the predictors that their probabilities of sampling better architectures will keep increasing. We thus only sample a few well-performed architectures guided by the predictive model, to estimate another better weak predictor. By this coarse-to-fine iteration, the ranking of sampling space is refined gradually, which helps find the optimal architectures eventually. Experiments demonstrate that our method costs fewer samples to find the top-performance architectures on NAS-Bench-101 and NAS-Bench-201, and it achieves the state-of-the-art ImageNet performance on the NASNet search space.

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