Training Spiking Neural Networks with Event-driven Backpropagation

Yaoyu Zhu · Zhaofei Yu · Wei Fang · Xiaodong Xie · Tiejun Huang · Timothée Masquelier

Keywords: [ spiking neural networks ] [ Event-driven Learning ] [ Time-based Gradient ]

Spiking Neural networks (SNNs) represent and transmit information by spatiotemporal spike patterns, which bring two major advantages: biological plausibility and suitability for ultralow-power neuromorphic implementation. Despite this, the binary firing characteristic makes training SNNs more challenging. To learn the parameters of deep SNNs in an event-driven fashion as in inference of SNNs, backpropagation with respect to spike timing is proposed. Although this event-driven learning has the advantages of lower computational cost and memory occupation, the accuracy is far below the recurrent neural network-like learning approaches. In this paper, we first analyze the commonly used temporal backpropagation training approach and prove that the sum of gradients remains unchanged between fully-connected and convolutional layers. Secondly, we show that the max pooling layer meets the above invariance rule, while the average pooling layer does not, which will suffer the gradient vanishing problem but can be revised to meet the requirement. Thirdly, we point out the reverse gradient problem for time-based gradients and propose a backward kernel that can solve this problem and keep the property of the invariable sum of gradients. The experimental results show that the proposed approach achieves state-of-the-art performance on CIFAR10 among time-based training methods. Also, this is the first time that the time-based backpropagation approach successfully trains SNN on the CIFAR100 dataset.  Our code is available at

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