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Binarized Neural Networks: A Leap Towards Efficient AI in Financial Sector

Updated: Feb 11

Deep learning, a subset of machine learning, has made significant strides over the last decade, enabling advancements in areas like natural language processing, computer vision, and artificial intelligence. However, the deployment of these deep learning models often poses challenges due to their large memory footprint and computational requirements. To overcome these challenges, researchers have turned to model compression techniques such as binarization. Binarized Deep Learning refers to the process of reducing the precision of model parameters to binary values, thereby significantly reducing memory usage and computational cost.

In the early days of neural networks, models were less complex, with fewer layers and parameters. However, as the demand for more accurate models increased, so did the complexity and size of these models. For instance, the AlexNet model, designed in 2012, contained 60 million float-point parameters and 650,000 neurons. By 2014, the VGG-16 model had over 130 million float-point parameters when applied to the same dataset. The larger and more complex these models became, the more computational resources they required, making them impractical for deployment on devices with limited resources. As a result, researchers began exploring methods to reduce the computational costs and memory usage of these models without significantly sacrificing their capabilities. This exploration led to the development of model compression and acceleration techniques, which can be broadly categorized into five groups:

Among these, Binarized Neural Networks (BNNs) emerged as an extreme case of parameters quantization, where the model parameters are reduced to binary values (+1 or -1), leading to substantial reductions in memory storage and increases in inference speed compared to traditional 32-bit CNNs. BNNs are a popular research topic in the AI community, given their potential for deployment on resource-limited devices such as wearable devices and tiny sensors. They have been applied to various problems, including classification, pattern recognition, computer vision, and natural language processing. However, BNNs come with their own set of challenges. One significant challenge is catastrophic forgetting, where a neural network, after learning a new task, forgets the previously learned task. This is particularly problematic in scenarios where the model has to learn multiple tasks sequentially.

At their core, BNNs function much like traditional neural networks, but with a key difference: while traditional networks use floating-point numbers for their weights and activations, BNNs use binary values, which dramatically reduce the required storage space and computational power. This binarization process is mainly achieved through a step function that maps real values to either +1 or -1. However, the binarization process also presents a significant challenge, as it leads to a loss of precision. This loss can cause substantial performance degradation compared to full-precision models. To mitigate this, researchers have proposed various training techniques and architectures, such as BinaryConnect, BinaryNet, and XNOR-Net, each with its unique approach to addressing this challenge. BinaryConnect, for instance, uses straight-through estimators (STEs) to approximate the gradients during backpropagation, allowing the model to learn despite the non-differentiable nature of the binarization function. BinaryNet, on the other hand, extends BinaryConnect by binarizing both the weights and activations, leading to a fully binary network. XNOR-Net takes it a step further by approximately scaling the binary filters in the convolutional layers, thereby significantly improving the performance of binary convolution.

Researchers have recently made significant strides in overcoming the catastrophic forgetting problem in BNNs. In a recent study, the hidden weights used by BNNs were interpreted as metaplastic variables, and a new training technique was proposed that could reduce catastrophic forgetting without needing previously presented data or formal boundaries between datasets. This approach stands in contrast to many current strategies addressing catastrophic forgetting, which typically involve retaining or retrieving information about the data or the model from previous tasks. Instead, this new technique allows for a more continuous learning process and is particularly attractive for embedded contexts and hardware implementations. The researchers demonstrated that their algorithm could enable a BNN to learn sequentially different tasks with accuracy equivalent to elastic weight consolidation, without any changes to the loss function or the computation of a task-specific importance factor. They successfully demonstrated this on various tasks, including permuted MNIST tasks and more complex sequences.

Binarized Neural Networks in Large Language Models

The application of BNNs extends to large language models as well. These models are typically characterized by a large number of parameters, making them resource-intensive. Binarizing these models can potentially lead to substantial reductions in memory usage and computational cost, making them more feasible for deployment in resource-limited environments. However, the application of BNNs to large language models is not straightforward. The binarization process can result in a significant performance drop due to the loss of precision. Recent research efforts are focusing on finding ways to maintain the performance of these models while reaping the benefits of binarization. These efforts include designing novel architectures, training techniques, and optimization strategies specifically tailored for binarized language models.

Binarized Neural Networks and Their Impact on the Finance Sector

The field of finance and investment stands to significantly benefit from advancements in Binarized Neural Networks (BNNs). These binary models could potentially revolutionize existing practices by reshaping data analysis methods and decision-making processes. The implications are substantial across various areas, including trading algorithms, credit scoring, portfolio management, and risk assessment.

High-frequency Trading and Algorithmic Trading: In the fast-paced world of high-frequency and algorithmic trading, the ability to process massive volumes of data swiftly is crucial. Trading algorithms must analyze real-time market data, economic indicators, and even social media sentiments to make informed decisions. Traditional deep learning models, while capable of handling such tasks, often require substantial computational resources and time, which could be a disadvantage in scenarios where milliseconds matter. BNNs, with their significantly reduced computational requirements, offer a solution to this challenge. By converting the model parameters to binary values, these networks can process information faster, enabling trading algorithms to respond more quickly to market fluctuations. This increased processing speed could potentially lead to more profitable trades by capitalizing on short-lived trading opportunities that slower models might miss.

Credit Scoring Models: Credit scoring is another area within finance where BNNs could have a transformative impact. Traditional credit scoring models use a variety of data, including credit history, current debt levels, and income, to predict a borrower's likelihood of default. However, these models can be complex and computationally intensive, limiting their deployment in resource-constrained environments. BNNs can offer a more streamlined and efficient solution. By binarizing the parameters, these models can evaluate credit risk with less computational overhead, making them ideal for deployment on edge devices, such as smartphones or tablets. This could potentially enable lenders to offer real-time credit scoring services to their customers, thereby improving the customer experience.

Portfolio Management and Risk Assessment: In portfolio management and risk assessment, BNNs could enhance the ability of financial institutions to make informed decisions. Portfolio managers often have to process vast amounts of data, including historical price trends, economic indicators, and company financials, to determine the optimal asset allocation. Similarly, risk managers use complex models to assess various risks, including market risk, credit risk, and operational risk. BNNs, with their reduced memory footprint and computational requirements, could enable these tasks to be performed more quickly and on a larger scale. For example, a portfolio manager could use a binarized model to analyze thousands of assets in real time, leading to more timely and accurate investment decisions. On the risk management side, BNNs could enable faster and more comprehensive risk assessments, thereby helping institutions better manage their risk exposure.

BNNs hold tremendous potential for application in the finance and investment sector. Their ability to function effectively on resource-limited devices can enable financial institutions to deploy sophisticated machine learning models in settings where it was previously impractical or too resource-intensive. As research continues to address the challenges associated with BNNs, their adoption in the financial sector is likely to increase, leading to more efficient and effective financial decision-making processes.


Interesting fact: The development and rise of Binarized Neural Networks (BNNs) can be traced back to the growing need for more efficient deep learning models. Traditional deep neural network models, like AlexNet and VGG-16, contained millions of float-point parameters and were computationally expensive and resource-intensive. As a result, they were challenging to deploy on devices with limited resources. BNNs emerged as a game-changing technology to address these limitations. They are an extreme case of parameter quantization methods, converting activations and weights to 1-bit values. This process theoretically allows for 32 times lower memory storage and 58 times faster inference speed than traditional 32-bit CNNs. BNNs have proven to be versatile, being used in a variety of problems including classification, pattern recognition, computer vision, and natural language processing. Their compact size and rapid inference speed make them ideal for embedding on resource-limited devices such as wearable devices and tiny sensors. Recognizing these advantages, more and more researchers have turned their attention to BNNs in recent years. In 2021, BNNs took center stage at a workshop called "Binary Networks for Computer Vision," held by the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR). This event underscored BNNs' growing popularity and importance within the AI community​.

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