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Workshop: Meta-Learning

Synthetic Petri Dish: A Novel Surrogate Model for Rapid Architecture Search

Aditya Rawal


Neural Architecture Search (NAS) explores a large space of architectural motifs -- a compute-intensive process that often involves ground-truth evaluation of each motif by instantiating it within a large network, and training and evaluating the network with thousands or more data samples. Inspired by how biological motifs such as cells are sometimes extracted from their natural environment and studied in an artificial Petri dish setting, this paper proposes the Synthetic Petri Dish model for evaluating architectural motifs. In the Synthetic Petri Dish, architectural motifs are instantiated in very small networks and evaluated using very few learned synthetic data samples (to effectively approximate performance in the full problem). The relative performance of motifs in the Synthetic Petri Dish can substitute for their ground-truth performance, thus accelerating the most expensive step of NAS. Unlike other neural network-based prediction models that parse the structure of the motif to estimate its performance, the Synthetic Petri Dish predicts motif performance by training the actual motif in an artificial setting, thus deriving predictions from its true intrinsic properties. Experiments in this paper demonstrate that the Synthetic Petri Dish can therefore predict the performance of new motifs with significantly higher accuracy, especially when insufficient ground truth data is available. Our hope is that this work can inspire a new research direction in studying the performance of extracted components of models in a synthetic diagnostic setting optimized to provide informative evaluations.

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