[Paper] MorphNet: Fast & Simple Resource-Constrained Structure Learning of Deep Networks (Image Classification)

Shrink & Expand to Improve the Networks: Inception-v2, ResNet & MobileNetV1

Sik-Ho Tsang
The Startup
Published in
6 min readOct 24, 2020


In this story, MorphNet: Fast & Simple Resource-Constrained Structure Learning of Deep Networks (MorphNet), by Google AI, Google Brain, Energy-efficient multimedia systems group, MIT, and, Georgia Institute of Technology, is briefly presented. In this paper:

  • A simple and general technique for a resource-constrained optimization of DNN architectures which is adaptable to specific resource constraints (e.g. FLOPs), and capable of increasing the network’s performance.
  • First, shrink an existing model such as ResNet using sparsifying regularizer. Then, expand all layers uniformly with width multiplier.
  • With the above shrink & expand process performed iteratively, the network is shrunken with improved performance.

This is a paper in 2018 CVPR with over 100 citations. (Sik-Ho Tsang @ Medium)


  1. Naive Solution: Simply Using Width Multiplier
  2. MorphNet: Shrink & Expand
  3. Experimental Results

1. Naive Solution: Simply Using Width Multiplier

  • Assume we already got a network where O1:M are the output widths of all layers, and we want to have a constraint on the network, e.g.: fewer FLOPs, or smaller model size.
  • According to the constraint, we would like to shrink the network to fit the constraint while having the smallest loss by the network:
  • where the constraint is denoted by F(O1:M) ≤ ζ for F monotonically increasing in each dimension, F is either the number of FLOPs per inference or the model size (i.e., number of parameters).
  • One naive solution is to find the largest w such that F(w · O1:M) ≤ ζ, where w is the width multiplier which can be smaller than one when we want to shrink the network. (If it is larger than one, the network is expanded.)
  • (This approach is used in many papers to increase the size of network to a similar network size of other SOTA models, for fair comparison.)
  • In most cases the network, i.e. the form of F, allows for easily finding the optimal w.
  • Despite its simplicity, this approach suffers, however, with decreased quality of the initial network design.

2. MorphNet: Shrink & Expand

Shrink and Expand

2.1. Shrink (Steps 1 & 2)

  • In the shrinking phase, MorphNet identifies inefficient neurons and prunes them from the network by applying a sparsifying regularizer G(θ) such that the total loss function of the network includes a cost for each neuron.
  • Suppose a layer has 6 weights from a to f.
  • Left: If c and f are set as zero, the network cannot be shrunk.
  • Middle: But if e and f are set as zero, the network can be shrunk to as the Right one. In this paper, this is done by Group Lasso regularizer.
  • Unlike the width multiplier approach, this approach is able to change the relative sizes of layers.

For example, when targeting FLOPs, higher-resolution neurons in the lower layers of the DNN tend to be sacrificed more than lower-resolution neurons in the upper layers of the DNN.

The situation is the exact opposite when the targeted resource is model size rather than FLOPs.

2.2. Expand (Step 3)

  • During expansion, a simple method is used only, namely uniformly expanding all layer sizes via a width multiplier as much as the constrained resource allows.

2.3. Iteration of Step 1–3 (Step 4)

  • Thus, the above completed one cycle of improving the network architecture.
  • We can continue this process iteratively until the performance is satisfactory, or until the DNN architecture has converged (i.e., further iterations lead to a near-identical DNN structure).
  • Yet, it is found a single iteration of Steps 1–3 to be enough to yield a noticeable improvement over the naive solution of just using a uniform width multiplier, while subsequent iterations can bring additional benefits in.

2.4. ResNet & Inception-v2 As Examples

Left: ResNet, Right: Inception-v2
  • When a layer has 0 neurons, this effectively changes the topology of the network by cutting the affected branch from the network.
  • Left: For ResNet, MorphNet might keep the skip-connection but remove the residual block as shown below (left).
  • Right: For Inception-v2, MorphNet might remove entire parallel towers as shown on the right.
  • To do this, Group Lasso is used as the regularizer. (CondenseNet has also used Group Lasso to “condense” the network.)
An example of ResNet-101
  • The FLOP regularizer primarily prunes the early, compute-heavy layers. It notably learns to remove whole layers to further reduce computational burden.
  • By contrast, the model size regularizer focuses on removal of 3×3 convolutions at the top layers as those are the most parameter-heavy.
  • (There are more detailed explanation/equations for the regularizer in the paper. If interested, please feel free to read the paper.)

3. Experimental Results

3.1. Study on MorphNet

MorphNet Using Inception-v2 on ImageNet
  • Using MorphNet approach (Blue) has better performance than just using naive width multiplier (Red).
  • Pentagon: Re-expanding one of the networks induced by the FLOP regularizer.
  • Star point: Performing the sparsifying and expanding process a second time.
MorphNet Using Inception-v2 on ImageNet
  • With more iterations, the accuracy is improved.
  • (Dropout rate was increased to mitigate overfit caused by the increased model capacity.)

3.2. Study on Different Models on Different Datasets

  • MorphNet can be applied to a variety of datasets and model architectures while maintaining FLOP cost.
  • The 1% improvement on MobileNet is especially impressive because MobileNet was specifically hand-designed to optimize accuracy under a FLOPs-constraint.
MAP vs. FLOPs (left) and MAP vs. model-size (right) curves on JFT (top) and AudioSet (bottom).
  • It is clear that the structures induced when targeting FLOPs form a better FLOPs/performance tradeoff curve, but poor model size/performance tradeoff curves, and vice versa when targeting model size.



Sik-Ho Tsang
The Startup

PhD, Researcher. I share what I learn. :) Linktree: https://linktr.ee/shtsang for Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.