Notes from WAX 2016

April 17, 2016

We held WAX, the workshop on approximate computing, at ASPLOS last week. I love organizing WAX—it’s a great excuse for the approximation community to talk about the broader themes that extend beyond any single person’s research project du jour.

Here are some notes on those themes. You can also check out the archived program for links to papers and slides.

Disgruntled Introductions

To introduce ourselves, we all said something we like about approximate computing and something we don’t like. Predictably, this invited a healthy dose of griping. Two gripey themes emerged:

looks like fun!

Cross-Stack Keynotes

We had two awesome keynote speakers, both of whom brought broad, interdisciplinary views on approximation.

Matthai Philipose from MSR has a goal of continuous mobile vision: always-on CV on a wearable device with all-day battery life and reasonable cloud costs. His data suggests that approximation is critical—not just a luxury—for this setting: current vision techniques can’t fit in the necessary energy and dollar budgets. It’s not even close. So he’s on a campaign to introduce approximation everywhere, from the camera sensor hardware to the DNN models and algorithms.

Naveen Verma from Princeton is a hardware researcher but, unlike some architects, believes approximate computing should come from the top down, from algorithms. He showed off data-driven hardware resilience, where you train a machine learning model to counteract the effects of deterministic hardware approximation. Under the right conditions, this cross-stack approach can lead to extremely good tolerance—much more than algorithm-agnostic approximation.

Best Practices

The discussion at the end of the day coalesced around standards of rigor in approximate-computing research. There was a broad consensus that evaluation methodologies have not improved enough since those heady days of the first few approximation papers. We hatched the idea of putting together a best practices document for approximation research, covering:

I’m excited about this idea for a community-sanctioned set of standards. But it’s going to be difficult: work like this doesn’t fit with normal incentives for academics.

A Better Workshop Next Year

I have plenty to learn about organizing workshops. Here are some things we need to fix:

Next year, my co-chairs and I want to get the WAX franchise more organized. Haphazardly cobbling things together one year at a time has been fun, but the workshop is getting bigger and more serious. We should assign real roles, like program chair and publicity chair, which means we’ll need more help. Please get in touch if you’d like to get involved—and thanks to everyone who already volunteered!

See you at WAX 2017.