Towards an Efficient Artificial Neural Network Pruning and Feature Ranking Tool

  • Mona AlShahrani

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) are known to be among the most effective and expressive machine learning models. Their impressive abilities to learn have been reflected in many broad application domains such as image recognition, medical diagnosis, online banking, robotics, dynamic systems, and many others. ANNs with multiple layers of complex non-linear transformations (a.k.a Deep ANNs) have shown recently successful results in the area of computer vision and speech recognition. ANNs are parametric models that approximate unknown functions in which parameter values (weights) are adapted during training. ANN’s weights can be large in number and thus render the trained model more complex with chances for “overfitting” training data. In this study, we explore the effects of network pruning on performance of ANNs and ranking of features that describe the data. Simplified ANN model results in fewer parameters, less computation and faster training. We investigate the use of Hessian-based pruning algorithms as well as simpler ones (i.e. non Hessian-based) on nine datasets with varying number of input features and ANN parameters. The Hessian-based Optimal Brain Surgeon algorithm (OBS) is robust but slow. Therefore a faster parallel Hessian- approximation is provided. An additional speedup is provided using a variant we name ‘Simple n Optimal Brain Surgeon’ (SNOBS), which represents a good compromise between robustness and time efficiency. For some of the datasets, the ANN pruning experiments show on average 91% reduction in the number of ANN parameters and about 60% - 90% in the number of ANN input features, while maintaining comparable or better accuracy to the case when no pruning is applied. Finally, we show through a comprehensive comparison with seven state-of-the art feature filtering methods that the feature selection and ranking obtained as a byproduct of the ANN pruning is comparable in accuracy to these methods.
Date of AwardMay 24 2015
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Computer, Electrical and Mathematical Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorVladimir Bajic (Supervisor)


  • Artificial
  • Prunning
  • Neural
  • Network
  • Feature
  • Ranking

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