Direct Feedback Alignment Scales to Modern Deep Learning Tasks and Architectures

NeurIPS 2020

François Boniface 1




Paper code


DFA implementation

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At variance with previous beliefs, we show an alternative to backpropagation, devoid of weight transport, can scale to modern deep learning tasks and architectures, up to Transformers.

Image classification shouldn't be the litmus test of a training method. We broaden the usual perspective of evaluating alternative to backpropagations on simple tasks like MNIST and CIFAR-10 with a study of unprecented scale:

4 domains

neural view synthesis, recommender systems, geometric learning, natural language processing.

9 tasks

simulated/real 3D scenes, Criteo dataset, citation networks, language generation.

11 architectures

NeRF, hybrid factorization machines, graph convolutions & attention, Transformers.

We ensure learning is happening using a unique breadth of controls. Rather than relying on possibly misleading accuracy evaluations, we perform in depth benchmarks and verifications:

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alignment measurements

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embeddings visualizations

We focus our study on Direct Feedback Alignment. DFA provides a compromise between biological realism and practical considerations, thanks to its compelling characteristics:

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synaptic asymmetry

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parallelizable backward

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single operation

Direct Feedback Alignment, briefly:

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Direct Feedback Alignment scales to modern deep learning tasks and architectures. We show alternative training methods are not limited to toy-tasks and can scale to state-of-the-art deep learning:

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Neural Radiance Fields

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Hybrid recommender systems

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Graph convolutional networks

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Our study shows that tackling challenging real-world tasks beyond backpropagation is possible. We hope it will inspire and motive further research on alternative methods.

Cite us:

title={Direct Feedback Alignment Scales to Modern Deep Learning Tasks and Architectures},
author={Launay, Julien and Poli, Iacopo and Boniface, Fran{\c{c}}ois and Krzakala, Florent},
journal={Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems},

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