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In-Person Oral presentation / top 5% paper

Towards Understanding Ensemble, Knowledge Distillation and Self-Distillation in Deep Learning

Zeyuan Allen-Zhu · Yuanzhi Li

award Honorable Mention
[ ] [ Livestream: Visit Oral 6 Track 1: Theory ]


We formally study how \emph{ensemble} of deep learning models can improve test accuracy, and how the superior performance of ensemble can be distilled into a single model using \emph{knowledge distillation}. We consider the challenging case where the ensemble is simply an average of the outputs of a few independently trained neural networks with the \emph{same} architecture, trained using the \emph{same} algorithm on the \emph{same} data set, and they only differ by the random seeds used in the initialization.We show that ensemble/knowledge distillation in \emph{deep learning} works very differently from traditional learning theory (such as boosting or NTKs). We develop a theory showing that when data has a structure we refer to as multi-view'', then ensemble of independently trained neural networks can provably improve test accuracy, and such superior test accuracy can also be provably distilled into a single model. Our result sheds light on how ensemble works in deep learning in a way that is completely different from traditional theorems, and how thedark knowledge'' is hidden in the outputs of the ensemble and can be used in distillation.

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