Shedding light on all optical neural networks

Read a couple of articles in the past week or so on all optical neural networks (see All optical neural network (NN) closes performance gap with electronic NN and New design advances optical neural networks that compute at the speed of light using engineered matter).

All optical NN solutions operate faster and use less energy to inference than standard all electronic ones. However, in reality they aree more of a hybrid soulution as they depend on the use of standard ML DL to train a NN. They then use 3D printing and other lithographic processes to create a series diffraction layers of an all optical NN that matches the trained NN.

The latest paper (see: Class-specific Differential Detection in Diffractive Optical Neural Networks Improves Inference Accuracy) describes a significant advance beyond the original solution (see: All-Optical Machine Learning Using Diffractive Deep Neural Networks, Ozcan’s original paper).

How (all optical) Diffractive Deep NNs (DDNNs) work for inferencing

In the original Ozcan discussion, a DDNN consists of a coherent light source (laser), an image, a bunch of refractive and reflective diffraction layers and photo detectors. Each neural network node is represented by a point (pixel?) on a diffractive layer. Node to node connections are represented by lights path moving through the diffractive layer(s).

In Ozcan’s paper, the light flowing through the diffraction layer is modified and passed on to the next diffraction layer. This passing of the light through the diffraction layer is equivalent to the mathematical bias (neural network node FP multiplier) in the trained NN.

The previous challenge has been how to fabricate diffraction layers and took a lot of hand work. But with the advent of 3D printing and other lithographic techniques, nowadays, creating a diffraction layer is relatively easy to do.

In DDNN inferencing, one exposes (via a coherent beam of light) the first diffraction layer to the input image data, then that image is transformed into a different light pattern which is sent down to the next layer. At some point the last diffraction layer converts the light hitting it into classification patterns which is then be detected by photo detectors. Altenatively, the classification pattern can be sent down an all optical computational path (see our Photonic computing sees the light of day post and Photonic FPGAs on the horizon post) to perform some function.

In the original paper, they showed results of an DDNN for a completely connected, 5 layer NN, with 0.2M neurons and 8B connections in total. They also showed results from a sparsely connected, 5 layer NN ,with 0.45M neurons and <0.1B connections

Note, that there’s significant power advantages in exposing an image to a series of diffraction gratings and detecting the classification using a photo detector vs. an all electronic NN which takes an image, uses photo detectors to convert it into an electrical( pixel series) signal and then process it through NN layers performing FP arithmetic at layer node until one reaches the classification layer.

Furthermore, the DDNN operates at the speed of light. The all electronic network seems to operate at FP arithmetic speeds X number of layers. That is only if it could all done in parallel (with GPUs and 1000s of computational engines. If it can’t be done in parallel, one would need to add another factor X the number of nodes in each layer . Let’s just say this is much slower than the speed of light.

Improving DDNN accuracy

The team at UCLA and elsewhere took on the task to improve DDNN accuracy by using more of the optical technology and techniques available to them.

In the new approach they split the image optical data path to create a positive and negative classifier. And use a differential classifier engine as the last step to determine the image’s classification.

It turns out that the new DDNN performed much better than the original DDNN on standard MNIST, Fashion MNIST and another standard AI benchmark.

DDNN inferencing advantages, disadvantages and use cases

Besides the obvious power efficiencies and speed efficiencies of optical DDNN vs. electronic NNs for inferencing, there are a few other advantages:

  • All optical data paths are less noisy – In an electronic inferencing path, each transformation of an image to a pixel file will add some signal loss. In an all optical inferencing engine, this would be eliminated.
  • Smaller inferencing engine – In an electronic inferencing engine one needs CPUs, memory, GPUs, PCIe busses, networking and all the power and cooling to make it work. For an all optical DDNN, one needs a laser, diffraction layers and a set of photo detectors. Yes there’s some electronics involved but not nearly as much as an all electronic NN. And an all electronic NN with 0.5m nodes, and 5 layers with 0.1B connections would take a lot of memory and compute to support. Their DDNN to perform this task took up about 9 cm (3.6″) squared by ~3 to5 cm (1.2″-2.0″) deep.

But there’s some problems with the technology.

  • No re-training or training support – there’s almost no way to re-train the optical DDNN without re-fabricating the DDNN diffraction layers. I suppose additional layers could be added on top of or below the bottom layers, sort of like a corrective lens. Also, if perhaps there was some sort of way to (chemically) develop diffraction layers during training steps then it could provide an all optical DL data flow.
  • No support for non-optical classifications – there’s much more to ML DL NN functionality than optical classification. Perhaps if there were some way to transform non-optical data into optical images then DDNNs could have a broader applicability.

The technology could be very useful in any camera, lidar, sighting scope, telescope image and satellite image classification activities. It could also potentially be used in a heads up displays to identify items of interest in the optical field.

It would also seem easy to adapt DDNN technology to classify analog sensor data as well. It might also lend itself to be used in space, at depth and other extreme environments where an all electronic NN gear might not survive for very long.


Photo Credit(s):

Figure 1 from All-Optical Machine Learning Using Diffractive Deep Neural Networks

Figure 2 from All-Optical Machine Learning Using Diffractive Deep Neural Networks

Figure 2 from Class-specific Differential Detection in Diffractive Optical Neural Networks Improves Inference Accuracy

Figure 3 from Class-specific Differential Detection in Diffractive Optical Neural Networks Improves Inference Accuracy