Soft Merging of Experts with Adaptive Routing

Mohammed Muqeeth,Haokun Liu, Colin Raffel


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Sparsely activated neural networks with conditional computation learn to route their inputs through different "expert" subnetworks, providing a form of modularity that densely activated models lack. Despite their possible benefits, models with learned routing often underperform their parameter-matched densely activated counterparts as well as models that use non-learned heuristic routing strategies. In this paper, we hypothesize that these shortcomings stem from the gradient estimation techniques used to train sparsely activated models that use non-differentiable discrete routing decisions. To address this issue, we introduce Soft Merging of Experts with Adaptive Routing (SMEAR), which avoids discrete routing by using a single "merged" expert constructed via a weighted average of all of the experts' parameters. By routing activations through a single merged expert, SMEAR does not incur a significant increase in computational costs and enables standard gradient-based training. We empirically validate that models using SMEAR outperform models that route based on metadata or learn sparse routing through gradient estimation. Furthermore, we provide qualitative analysis demonstrating that the experts learned via SMEAR exhibit a significant amount of specialization. All of the code used in our experiments is publicly available.
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