Can Functional Transfer Methods Capture Simple Inductive Biases?

Arne Nix · Suhas Shrinivasan · Edgar Walker · Fabian Sinz


Transferring knowledge embedded in trained neural networks is a core problem in areas like model compression and continual learning. Among knowledge transfer approaches, functional transfer methods such as knowledge distillation and representational distance learning are particularly promising, since they allow for transferring knowledge across different architectures and tasks. Considering various characteristics of networks that are desirable to transfer, equivariance is a notable property that enables a network to capture valuable relationships in the data. We assess existing functional transfer methods on their ability to transfer equivariance and empirically show that they fail to even transfer shift equivariance, one of the simplest equivariances. Further theoretical analysis demonstrates that representational similarity methods, in fact, cannot guarantee the transfer of the intended equivariance. Motivated by these findings, we develop a novel transfer method that learns an equivariance model from a given teacher network and encourages the student network to acquire the same equivariance, via regularization. Experiments show that our method successfully transfers equivariance even in cases where highly restrictive methods, such as directly matching student and teacher representations, fail.

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