Neural algorithms



A Biological Neural Network refers to the information processing elements of the nervous system, organized as a collection of neural cells, called neurons, that are interconnected in networks and interact with each other using electrochemical signals. A biological neuron is generally comprised of an axon which provides the input signals and is connected to other neurons via synapses. The neuron reacts to input signals and may produce an output signal on its output connection called the dendrites.

The field of Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) is concerned with the investigation of computational models inspired by theories and observation of the structure and function of biological networks of neural cells in the brain. They are generally designed as models for addressing mathematical, computational, and engineering problems. As such, there is a lot of interdisciplinary research in mathematics, neurobiology and computer science.

An Artificial Neural Network is generally comprised of a collection of artificial neurons that are interconnected in order to performs some computation on input patterns and create output patterns. They are adaptive systems capable of modifying their internal structure, typically the weights between nodes in the network, allowing them to be used for a variety of function approximation problems such as classification, regression, feature extraction and content addressable memory.

There are many types of neural networks, many of which fall into one of two categories:

  • Feed-forward Networks where input is provided on one side of the network and the signals are propagated forward (in one direction) through the network structure to the other side where output signals are read. These networks may be comprised of one cell, one layer or multiple layers of neurons. Some examples include the Perceptron, Radial Basis Function Networks, and the multi-layer perceptron networks.
  • Recurrent Networks where cycles in the network are permitted and the structure may be fully interconnected. Examples include the Hopfield Network and Bidirectional Associative Memory.

Artificial Neural Network structures are made up of nodes and weights which typically require training based on samples of patterns from a problem domain. Some examples of learning strategies include:

  • Supervised Learning where the network is exposed to the input that has a known expected answer. The internal state of the network is modified to better match the expected result. Examples of this learning method include the Back-propagation algorithm and the Hebb rule.
  • Unsupervised Learning where the network is exposed to input patterns from which it must discern meaning and extract features. The most common type of unsupervised learning is competitive learning where neurons compete based on the input pattern to produce an output pattern. Examples include Neural Gas, Learning Vector Quantization, and the Self-Organizing Map.

Artificial Neural Networks are typically difficult to configure and slow to train, but once prepared are very fast in application. They are generally used for function approximation-based problem domains and prized for their capabilities of generalization and tolerance to noise. They are known to have the limitation of being opaque, meaning there is little explanation to the subject matter expert as to why decisions were made, only how.