Google Research

Machine Learning Systems are Stuck in a Rut

Hot Topics in Operating Systems (2019)


In this paper we argue that systems for numerical computing are stuck in a local basin of performance and programmability. Systems researchers are doing an excellent job improving the performance of 5-year-old benchmarks, but gradually making it harder to explore innovative machine learning research ideas.

We explain how the evolution of hardware accelerators favors compiler back ends that hyper-optimize large monolithic kernels, show how this reliance on high-performance but inflexible kernels reinforces the dominant style of programming model, and argue these programming abstractions lack expressiveness, maintainability, and modularity; all of which hinders research progress.

We conclude by noting promising directions in the field, and advocate steps to advance progress towards high-performance general purpose numerical computing systems on modern accelerators.

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