The Elastic Lottery Ticket Hypothesis


Lottery Ticket Hypothesis (LTH) raises keen attention to identifying sparse trainable subnetworks, or winning tickets, of training, which can be trained in isolation to achieve similar or even better performance compared to the full models. Despite many efforts being made, the most effective method to identify such winning tickets is still Iterative Magnitude-based Pruning (IMP), which is computationally expensive and has to be run thoroughly for every different network. A natural question that comes in is: can we “transform” the winning ticket found in one network to another with a different architecture, yielding a winning ticket for the latter at the beginning, without re-doing the expensive IMP? Answering this question is not only practically relevant for efficient “once-for-all” winning ticket finding, but also theoretically appealing for uncovering inherently scalable sparse patterns in networks. We conduct extensive experiments on CIFAR-10 and ImageNet, and propose a variety of strategies to tweak the winning tickets found from different networks of the same model family (e.g., ResNets). Based on these results, we articulate the Elastic Lottery Ticket Hypothesis (E-LTH): by mindfully replicating (or dropping) and re-ordering layers for one network, its corresponding winning ticket could be stretched (or squeezed) into a subnetwork for another deeper (or shallower) network from the same family, whose performance is nearly the same competitive as the latter’s winning ticket directly found by IMP. We have also thoroughly compared E-LTH with pruning-at-initialization and dynamic sparse training methods, and discuss the generalizability of E-LTH to different model families, layer types, or across datasets. Code is available at

In Proceedings of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 2021