User:Bill Flanagan/docs/Neural Network

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Neural network


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Merge arrow It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Artificial neural network. (Discuss) For other uses, see Neural network (disambiguation). Simplified view of an artificial neural network

Traditionally, the term neural network had been used to refer to a network or circuit of biological neurons. The modern usage of the term often refers to artificial neural networks, which are composed of artificial neurons or nodes. Thus the term has two distinct usages:

  1. Biological neural networks are made up of real biological neurons that are connected or functionally related in the peripheral nervous system or the central nervous system. In the field of neuroscience, they are often identified as groups of neurons that perform a specific physiological function in laboratory analysis.
  2. Artificial neural networks are made up of interconnecting artificial neurons (programming constructs that mimic the properties of biological neurons). Artificial neural networks may either be used to gain an understanding of biological neural networks, or for solving artificial intelligence problems without necessarily creating a model of a real biological system. The real, biological nervous system is highly complex and includes some features that may seem superfluous based on an understanding of artificial networks.

This article focuses on the relationship between the two concepts; for detailed coverage of the two different concepts refer to the separate articles: Biological neural network and Artificial neural network.



The Perceptron is essentially a linear classifier for classifying data x \in R^n specified by parameters w \in R^n, b \in R and an output function f = w'x + b. Its parameters are adapted with an ad-hoc rule similar to stochastic steepest gradient descent. Because the inner product is a linear operator in the input space, the Perceptron can only perfectly classify a set of data for which different classes are linearly separable in the input space, while it often fails completely for non-separable data. While the development of the algorithm initially generated some enthusiasm, partly because of its apparent relation to biological mechanisms, the later discovery of this inadequacy caused such models to be abandoned until the introduction of non-linear models into the field.

Multi-Layer Perceptrons

The rediscovery of the backpropagation algorithm was probably the main reason behind the repopularisation of neural networks after the publication of "Learning Internal Representations by Error Propagation" in 1986 (Though backpropagation itself dates from 1974). The original network utilised multiple layers of weight-sum units of the type f = g(w'x + b), where g was a sigmoid function or logistic function such as used in logistic regression. Training was done by a form of stochastic steepest gradient descent. The employment of the chain rule of differentiation in deriving the appropriate parameter updates results in an algorithm that seems to 'backpropagate errors', hence the nomenclature. However it is essentially a form of gradient descent. Determining the optimal parameters in a model of this type is not trivial, and steepest gradient descent methods cannot be relied upon to give the solution without a good starting point. In recent times, networks with the same architecture as the backpropagation network are referred to as Multi-Layer Perceptrons. This name does not impose any limitations on the type of algorithm used for learning.


An artificial neural network involves a network of simple processing elements (artificial neurons) which can exhibit complex global behaviour, determined by the connections between the processing elements and element parameters. Artificial neurons were first proposed in 1943 by Warren McCulloch, a neurophysiologist, and Walter Pitts, an MIT logician.[1] One classical type of artificial neural network is the Hopfield net.

In a neural network model simple nodes, which can be called variously "neurons", "neurodes", "Processing Elements" (PE) or "units", are connected together to form a network of nodes — hence the term "neural network". While a neural network does not have to be adaptive per se, its practical use comes with algorithms designed to alter the strength (weights) of the connections in the network to produce a desired signal flow.

In modern software implementations of artificial neural networks the approach inspired by biology has more or less been abandoned for a more practical approach based on statistics and signal processing. In some of these systems neural networks, or parts of neural networks (such as artificial neurons) are used as components in larger systems that combine both adaptive and non-adaptive elements.

The concept of a neural network appears to have first been proposed by Alan Turing in his 1948 paper "Intelligent Machinery".

Supervised Learning

In supervised learning, we are given a set of example pairs (x, y), x \in X, y \in Y and the aim is to find a function f in the allowed class of functions that matches the examples. In other words, we wish to infer how the mapping implied by the data and the cost function is related to the mismatch between our mapping and the data.

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