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Deep learning and free software

Filed under
Debian
Sci/Tech

Deep-learning applications typically rely on a trained neural net to accomplish their goal (e.g. photo recognition, automatic translation, or playing go). That neural net uses what is essentially a large collection of weighting numbers that have been empirically determined as part of its training (which generally uses a huge set of training data). A free-software application could use those weights, but there are a number of barriers for users who might want to tweak them for various reasons. A discussion on the debian-devel mailing list recently looked at whether these deep-learning applications can ever truly be considered "free" (as in freedom) because of these pre-computed weights—and the difficulties inherent in changing them.

The conversation was started by Zhou Mo ("Lumin"); he is concerned that, even if deep-learning application projects release the weights under a free license, there are questions about how much freedom that really provides. In particular, he noted that training these networks is done using NVIDIA's proprietary cuDNN library that only runs on NVIDIA hardware.

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