Quick and robust feature selection: the strength of energy-efficient sparse training for autoencoders

Zahra Atashgahi*, Ghada Sokar, Tim van der Lee, Elena Mocanu, Decebal Constantin Mocanu, Raymond Veldhuis, Mykola Pechenizkiy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
54 Downloads (Pure)


Major complications arise from the recent increase in the amount of high-dimensional data, including high computational costs and memory requirements. Feature selection, which identifies the most relevant and informative attributes of a dataset, has been introduced as a solution to this problem. Most of the existing feature selection methods are computationally inefficient; inefficient algorithms lead to high energy consumption, which is not desirable for devices with limited computational and energy resources. In this paper, a novel and flexible method for unsupervised feature selection is proposed. This method, named QuickSelection (The code is available at: https://github.com/zahraatashgahi/QuickSelection), introduces the strength of the neuron in sparse neural networks as a criterion to measure the feature importance. This criterion, blended with sparsely connected denoising autoencoders trained with the sparse evolutionary training procedure, derives the importance of all input features simultaneously. We implement QuickSelection in a purely sparse manner as opposed to the typical approach of using a binary mask over connections to simulate sparsity. It results in a considerable speed increase and memory reduction. When tested on several benchmark datasets, including five low-dimensional and three high-dimensional datasets, the proposed method is able to achieve the best trade-off of classification and clustering accuracy, running time, and maximum memory usage, among widely used approaches for feature selection. Besides, our proposed method requires the least amount of energy among the state-of-the-art autoencoder-based feature selection methods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377–414
Number of pages38
JournalMachine Learning
Early online date27 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • Deep learning
  • Feature selection
  • Sparse autoencoders
  • Sparse training


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