Sparse Activity and Sparse Connectivity in Supervised Learning

Markus Thom, Günther Palm.

Year: 2013, Volume: 14, Issue: 33, Pages: 1091−1143


Sparseness is a useful regularizer for learning in a wide range of applications, in particular in neural networks. This paper proposes a model targeted at classification tasks, where sparse activity and sparse connectivity are used to enhance classification capabilities. The tool for achieving this is a sparseness-enforcing projection operator which finds the closest vector with a pre-defined sparseness for any given vector. In the theoretical part of this paper, a comprehensive theory for such a projection is developed. In conclusion, it is shown that the projection is differentiable almost everywhere and can thus be implemented as a smooth neuronal transfer function. The entire model can hence be tuned end-to-end using gradient-based methods. Experiments on the MNIST database of handwritten digits show that classification performance can be boosted by sparse activity or sparse connectivity. With a combination of both, performance can be significantly better compared to classical non-sparse approaches.