Due to energy-efficiency requirements, computational systems are now being implemented using noisy nanoscale semiconductor devices whose reliability depends on energy consumed. We study circuit-level energy-reliability limits for deep feedforward neural networks (multilayer perceptrons) built using such devices, and en route also establish the same limits for formulas (boolean tree-structured circuits). To obtain energy lower bounds, we extend Pippenger’s mutual information propagation technique for characterizing the complexity of noisy circuits, since small circuit complexity need not imply low energy. Many device technologies require all gates to have the same electrical operating point; in circuits of such uniform gates, we show that the minimum energy required to achieve any non-trivial reliability scales superlinearly with the number of inputs. Circuits implemented in emerging device technologies like spin electronics can, however, have gates operate at different electrical points; in circuits of such heterogeneous gates, we show energy scaling can be linear in the number of inputs. Building on our extended mutual information propagation technique and using crucial insights from convex optimization theory, we develop an algorithm to compute energy lower bounds for any given boolean tree under heterogeneous gates. This algorithm runs in linear time in number of gates, and is therefore practical for modern circuit design. As part of our development we find a simple procedure for energy allocation across circuit gates with different operating points and neural networks with differently-operating layers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2981889
Pages (from-to)250-266
Number of pages17
JournalIEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Information Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2020


  • Circuit optimization
  • Fault tolerant systems
  • Mutual information
  • Neural networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Media Technology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Applied Mathematics


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