# Surrogate Gradient Method

Author: fangwei123456

As mentioned in Neuron, the Heaviside function $$S[t] = \Theta(H[t] - V_{threshold})$$ is used to describe the neuronal firing.The Heaviside function is:

$\begin{split}\Theta(x) = \begin{cases} 1, & x \geq 0 \\ 0, & x < 0 \end{cases}\end{split}$

Its derivative is the unit impulse function, which is defined by:

$\begin{split}\delta(x) = \begin{cases} +\infty, & x = 0 \\ 0, & x \neq 0 \end{cases}\end{split}$

If we use the unit impulse function to calculate the gradient and apply the gradient descent, the training will be very unstable. To solve this problem, the surrogate gradient method is proposed. Refer to Surrogate Gradient Learning in Spiking Neural Networks for more details.

The surrogate function is used to generate spikes, which can be found in the codes of BaseNode.neuronal_fire:

# spikingjelly.activation_based.neuron
class BaseNode(base.MemoryModule):
def __init__(..., surrogate_function: Callable = surrogate.Sigmoid(), ...)
# ...
self.surrogate_function = surrogate_function
# ...

def neuronal_fire(self):
return self.surrogate_function(self.v - self.v_threshold)


The surrogate gradient method uses $$y = \Theta(x)$$ in forward and $$\frac{\mathrm{d}y}{\mathrm{d}x} = \sigma'(x)$$, rather than $$\frac{\mathrm{d}y}{\mathrm{d}x} = \Theta'(x)$$ in backward, where $$\sigma(x)$$ is the surrogate function. In most cases, $$\sigma(x)$$ is a continuous and smooth function whose shape is similar to $$\Theta(x)$$.spikingjelly.activation_based.surrogate provides many frequently-used surrogate functions. For example, the Sigmoid function spikingjelly.activation_based.surrogate.Sigmoid is $$\sigma(x, \alpha) = \frac{1}{1 + \exp(-\alpha x)}$$.The following figure shows the primitive Heaviside function, the sigmoid function when alpha=5 and its gradient:

We can use the surrogate function easily, just as we use other functions:

import torch
from spikingjelly.activation_based import surrogate

sg = surrogate.Sigmoid(alpha=4.)

x = torch.rand([8]) - 0.5
y = sg(x)
y.sum().backward()
print(f'x={x}')
print(f'y={y}')


The outputs are:

x=tensor([-0.1303,  0.4976,  0.3364,  0.4296,  0.2779,  0.4580,  0.4447,  0.2466],
y=tensor([0., 1., 1., 1., 1., 1., 1., 1.], grad_fn=<sigmoidBackward>)
x.grad=tensor([0.9351, 0.4231, 0.6557, 0.5158, 0.7451, 0.4759, 0.4943, 0.7913])


All surrogate functions have a module style API, e.g., spikingjelly.activation_based.surrogate.Sigmoid, and a functional style API, e.g., spikingjelly.activation_based.surrogate.sigmoid.The module style API uses Camel-Case to name modules, while the functional API uses Snake-Case to name functions. Their relation are similar to torch.nn and torch.nn.functional.Here are some examples:

module

function

Sigmoid

sigmoid

SoftSign

soft_sign

LeakyKReLU

leaky_k_relu

Here is an example of using the functional API:

import torch
from spikingjelly.activation_based import surrogate

alpha = 4.
x = torch.rand([8]) - 0.5

Most surrogate functions have one or many hyper-parameters to control the shape, e.g., alpha of spikingjelly.activation_based.surrogate.Sigmoid. In SpikingJelly, the default shape hyper-parameters are set to make the maximum of the surrogate function’s gradient to be 1, which can relieve the gradient vanishing or exploding problem caused by the cumulative product of gradients.