Stanford University

neural network

What is a Neural Network?

First of all, when we are talking about a neural network, we should more properly say "artificial neural network" (ANN), because that is what we mean most of the time. Biological neural networks are much more complicated than the mathematical models we use for ANNs. But it is customary to be lazy and drop the "A" or the "artificial".

An Artificial Neural Network (ANN) is an information processing paradigm that is inspired by the way biological nervous systems, such as the brain, process information. The key element of this paradigm is the novel structure of the information processing system. It is composed of a large number of highly interconnected processing elements (neurons) working in unison to solve specific problems. ANNs, like people, learn by example. An ANN is configured for a specific application, such as pattern recognition or data classification, through a learning process. Learning in biological systems involves adjustments to the synaptic connections that exist between the neurons. This is true of ANNs as well.

Historical Background of Neural Networks

Neural network simulations appear to be a recent development. However, this field was established before the advent of computers, and has survived at least one major setback and several eras.

Many importand advances have been boosted by the use of inexpensive computer emulations. Following an initial period of enthusiasm, the field survived a period of frustration and disrepute. During this period when funding and professional support was minimal, important advances were made by relatively few reserchers. These pioneers were able to develop convincing technology which surpassed the limitations identified by Minsky and Papert. Minsky and Papert, published a book (in 1969) in which they summed up a general feeling of frustration (against neural networks) among researchers, and was thus accepted by most without further analysis. Currently, the neural network field enjoys a resurgence of interest and a corresponding increase in funding.

The history of neural networks that was described above can be divided into several periods:

First Attempts: There were some initial simulations using formal logic. McCulloch and Pitts (1943) developed models of neural networks based on their understanding of neurology. These models made several assumptions about how neurons worked. Their networks were based on simple neurons which were considered to be binary devices with fixed thresholds. The results of their model were simple logic functions such as "a or b" and "a and b". Another attempt was by using computer simulations. Two groups (Farley and Clark, 1954; Rochester, Holland, Haibit and Duda, 1956). The first group (IBM reserchers) maintained closed contact with neuroscientists at McGill University. So whenever their models did not work, they consulted the neuroscientists. This interaction established a multidiscilinary trend which continues to the present day.

Promising & Emerging Technology: Not only was neroscience influential in the development of neural networks, but psychologists and engineers also contributed to the progress of neural network simulations. Rosenblatt (1958) stirred considerable interest and activity in the field when he designed and developed the Perceptron. The Perceptron had three layers with the middle layer known as the association layer.This system could learn to connect or associate a given input to a random output unit.

Another system was the ADALINE (ADAptive LInear Element) which was developed in 1960 by Widrow and Hoff (of Stanford University). The ADALINE was an analogue electronic device made from simple components. The method used for learning was different to that of the Perceptron, it employed the Least-Mean-Squares (LMS) learning rule.

Period of Frustration & Disrepute: In 1969 Minsky and Papert wrote a book in which they generalised the limitations of single layer Perceptrons to multilayered systems. In the book they said: "…our intuitive judgment that the extension (to multilayer systems) is sterile". The significant result of their book was to eliminate funding for research with neural network simulations. The conclusions supported the disenhantment of reserchers in the field. As a result, considerable prejudice against this field was activated.

Innovation: Although public interest and available funding were minimal, several researchers continued working to develop neuromorphically based computaional methods for problems such as pattern recognition.

During this period several paradigms were generated which modern work continues to enhance.Grossberg’s (Steve Grossberg and Gail Carpenter in 1988) influence founded a school of thought which explores resonating algorithms. They developed the ART (Adaptive Resonance Theory) networks based on biologically plausible models. Anderson and Kohonen developed associative techniques independent of each other. Klopf (A. Henry Klopf) in 1972, developed a basis for learning in artificial neurons based on a biological principle for neuronal learning called heterostasis.

Werbos (Paul Werbos 1974) developed and used the back-propagation learning method, however several years passed before this approach was popularized. Back-propagation nets are probably the most well known and widely applied of the neural networks today. In essence, the back-propagation net. is a Perceptron with multiple layers, a different thershold function in the artificial neuron, and a more robust and capable learning rule.

Amari (A. Shun-Ichi 1967) was involved with theoretical developments: he published a paper which established a mathematical theory for a learning basis (error-correction method) dealing with adaptive patern classification. While Fukushima (F. Kunihiko) developed a step wise trained multilayered neural network for interpretation of handwritten characters. The original network was published in 1975 and was called the Cognitron.

Re-Emergence: Progress during the late 1970s and early 1980s was important to the re-emergence on interest in the neural network field. Several factors influenced this movement. For example, comprehensive books and conferences provided a forum for people in diverse fields with specialized technical languages, and the response to conferences and publications was quite positive. The news media picked up on the increased activity and tutorials helped disseminate the technology. Academic programs appeared and courses were inroduced at most major Universities (in US and Europe). Attention is now focused on funding levels throughout Europe, Japan and the US and as this funding becomes available, several new commercial with applications in industry and finacial institutions are emerging.

Today: Significant progress has been made in the field of neural networks-enough to attract a great deal of attention and fund further research. Advancement beyond current commercial applications appears to be possible, and research is advancing the field on many fronts. Neurally based chips are emerging and applications to complex problems developing. Clearly, today is a period of transition for neural network technology.

 

Why use neural networks?

Neural networks, with their remarkable ability to derive meaning from complicated or imprecise data, can be used to extract patterns and detect trends that are too complex to be noticed by either humans or other computer techniques. A trained neural network can be thought of as an "expert" in the category of information it has been given to analyse. This expert can then be used to provide projections given new situations of interest and answer "what if" questions.
Other advantages include:

  1. Adaptive learning: An ability to learn how to do tasks based on the data given for training or initial experience.
  2. Self-Organisation: An ANN can create its own organisation or representation of the information it receives during learning time.
  3. Real Time Operation: ANN computations may be carried out in parallel, and special hardware devices are being designed and manufactured which take advantage of this capability.
  4. Fault Tolerance via Redundant Information Coding: Partial destruction of a network leads to the corresponding degradation of performance. However, some network capabilities may be retained even with major network damage.

 

 

 

 

 

Neural networks versus conventional computers

Neural networks take a different approach to problem solving than that of conventional computers. Conventional computers use an algorithmic approach i.e. the computer follows a set of instructions in order to solve a problem. Unless the specific steps that the computer needs to follow are known the computer cannot solve the problem. That restricts the problem solving capability of conventional computers to problems that we already understand and know how to solve. But computers would be so much more useful if they could do things that we don’t exactly know how to do.

Neural networks process information in a similar way the human brain does. The network is composed of a large number of highly interconnected processing elements(neurones) working in parallel to solve a specific problem. Neural networks learn by example. They cannot be programmed to perform a specific task. The examples must be selected carefully otherwise useful time is wasted or even worse the network might be functioning incorrectly. The disadvantage is that because the network finds out how to solve the problem by itself, its operation can be unpredictable.

On the other hand, conventional computers use a cognitive approach to problem solving; the way the problem is to solved must be known and stated in small unambiguous instructions. These instructions are then converted to a high level language program and then into machine code that the computer can understand. These machines are totally predictable; if anything goes wrong is due to a software or hardware fault.

Neural networks and conventional algorithmic computers are not in competition but complement each other. There are tasks are more suited to an algorithmic approach like arithmetic operations and tasks that are more suited to neural networks. Even more, a large number of tasks, require systems that use a combination of the two approaches (normally a conventional computer is used to supervise the neural network) in order to perform at maximum efficiency.

 

 

 

 

 

Neural Networks in Practice

Given this description of neural networks and how they work, what real world applications are they suited for? Neural networks have broad applicability to real world business problems. In fact, they have already been successfully applied in many industries.

Since neural networks are best at identifying patterns or trends in data, they are well suited for prediction or forecasting needs including:

sales forecasting

industrial process control

customer research

data validation

risk management

target marketing

But to give you some more specific examples; ANN are also used in the following specific paradigms: recognition of speakers in communications; diagnosis of hepatitis; recovery of telecommunications from faulty software; interpretation of multimeaning Chinese words; undersea mine detection; texture analysis; three-dimensional object recognition; handwritten word recognition; and facial recognition.

 

 

 

 

 

Human and Artificial Neurones – investigating the similarities

 

How the Human Brain Learns?

Much is still unknown about how the brain trains itself to process information, so theories abound. In the human brain, a typical neuron collects signals from others through a host of fine structures called dendrites. The neuron sends out spikes of electrical activity through a long, thin stand known as an axon, which splits into thousands of branches. At the end of each branch, a structure called a synapse converts the activity from the axon into electrical effects that inhibit or excite activity from the axon into electrical effects that inhibit or excite activity in the connected neurones. When a neuron receives excitatory input that is sufficiently large compared with its inhibitory input, it sends a spike of electrical activity down its axon. Learning occurs by changing the effectiveness of the synapses so that the influence of one neuron on another changes.

 

 

Components of a neuron

 

 

 

The synapse

 

 

From Human Neurones to Artificial Neurones

We conduct these neural networks by first trying to deduce the essential features of neurones and their interconnections. We then typically program a computer to simulate these features. However because our knowledge of neurones is incomplete and our computing power is limited, our models are necessarily gross idealisations of real networks of neurones.

The neuron model

 

Architecture of neural networks

Feed-forward networks

 Feed-forward ANNs  allow signals to travel one way only; from input to output. There is no feedback (loops) i.e. the output of any layer does not affect that same layer. Feed-forward ANNs tend to be straight forward networks that associate inputs with outputs. They are extensively used in pattern recognition. This type of organisation is also referred to as bottom-up or top-down.

 

Feedback networks

Feedback networks (figure 1) can have signals travelling in both directions by introducing loops in the network. Feedback networks are very powerful and can get extremely complicated. Feedback networks are dynamic; their ‘state’ is changing continuously until they reach an equilibrium point. They remain at the equilibrium point until the input changes and a new equilibrium needs to be found. Feedback architectures are also referred to as interactive or recurrent, although the latter term is often used to denote feedback connections in single-layer organisations.

 

 

 

 

Applications of neural networks

Neural Networks in Practice

Given this description of neural networks and how they work, what real world applications are they suited for? Neural networks have broad applicability to real world business problems. In fact, they have already been successfully applied in many industries.

Since neural networks are best at identifying patterns or trends in data, they are well suited for prediction or forecasting needs including:

sales forecasting

industrial process control

customer research

data validation

risk management

target marketing

But to give you some more specific examples; ANN are also used in the following specific paradigms: recognition of speakers in communications; diagnosis of hepatitis; recovery of telecommunications from faulty software; interpretation of multimeaning Chinese words; undersea mine detection; texture analysis; three-dimensional object recognition; hand-written word recognition; and facial recognition.

Neural networks in medicine

Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) are currently a ‘hot’ research area in medicine and it is believed that they will receive extensive application to biomedical systems in the next few years. At the moment, the research is mostly on modelling parts of the human body and recognising diseases from various scans (e.g. cardiograms, CAT scans, ultrasonic scans, etc.).

Neural networks are ideal in recognising diseases using scans since there is no need to provide a specific algorithm on how to identify the disease. Neural networks learn by example so the details of how to recognise the disease are not needed. What is needed is a set of examples that are representative of all the variations of the disease. The quantity of examples is not as important as the ‘quantity’. The examples need to be selected very carefully if the system is to perform reliably and efficiently.

Modelling and Diagnosing the Cardiovascular System

Neural Networks are used experimentally to model the human cardiovascular system. Diagnosis can be achieved by building a model of the cardiovascular system of an individual and comparing it with the real time physiological measurements taken from the patient. If this routine is carried out regularly, potential harmful medical conditions can be detected at an early stage and thus make the process of combating the disease much easier.

A model of an individual’s cardiovascular system must mimic the relationship among physiological variables (i.e., heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressures, and breathing rate) at different physical activity levels. If a model is adapted to an individual, then it becomes a model of the physical condition of that individual. The simulator will have to be able to adapt to the features of any individual without the supervision of an expert. This calls for a neural network.

Another reason that justifies the use of ANN technology, is the ability of ANNs to provide sensor fusion which is the combining of values from several different sensors. Sensor fusion enables the ANNs to learn complex relationships among the individual sensor values, which would otherwise be lost if the values were individually analysed. In medical modelling and diagnosis, this implies that even though each sensor in a set may be sensitive only to a specific physiological variable, ANNs are capable of detecting complex medical conditions by fusing the data from the individual biomedical sensors.

Electronic noses

ANNs are used experimentally to implement electronic noses. Electronic noses have several potential applications in telemedicine. Telemedicine is the practice of medicine over long distances via a communication link. The electronic nose would identify odours in the remote surgical environment. These identified odours would then be electronically transmitted to another site where an door generation system would recreate them. Because the sense of smell can be an important sense to the surgeon, telesmell would enhance telepresent surgery.
For more information on telemedicine and telepresent surgery

 

Electronic noses

ANNs are used experimentally to implement electronic noses. Electronic noses have several potential applications in telemedicine. Telemedicine is the practice of medicine over long distances via a communication link. The electronic nose would identify odours in the remote surgical environment. These identified odours would then be electronically transmitted to another site where an door generation system would recreate them. Because the sense of smell can be an important sense to the surgeon, telesmell would enhance telepresent surgery.
For more information on telemedicine and telepresent surgery

 

 

Neural Networks in business

Business is a diverted field with several general areas of specialisation such as accounting or financial analysis. Almost any neural network application would fit into one business area or financial analysis.
There is some potential for using neural networks for business purposes, including resource allocation and scheduling. There is also a strong potential for using neural networks for database mining, that is, searching for patterns implicit within the explicitly stored information in databases. Most of the funded work in this area is classified as proprietary. Thus, it is not possible to report on the full extent of the work going on. Most work is applying neural networks, such as the Hopfield-Tank network for optimization and scheduling.

    Marketing

There is a marketing application which has been integrated with a neural network system. The Airline Marketing Tactician (a trademark abbreviated as AMT) is a computer system made of various intelligent technologies including expert systems. A feedforward neural network is integrated with the AMT and was trained using back-propagation to assist the marketing control of airline seat allocations. The adaptive neural approach was amenable to rule expression. Additionaly, the application’s environment changed rapidly and constantly, which required a continuously adaptive solution. The system is used to monitor and recommend booking advice for each departure. Such information has a direct impact on the profitability of an airline and can provide a technological advantage for users of the system. [Hutchison & Stephens, 1987]

While it is significant that neural networks have been applied to this problem, it is also important to see that this intelligent technology can be integrated with expert systems and other approaches to make a functional system. Neural networks were used to discover the influence of undefined interactions by the various variables. While these interactions were not defined, they were used by the neural system to develop useful conclusions. It is also noteworthy to see that neural networks can influence the bottom line.

 

 

 

Are there any limits to Neural Networks?

The major issues of concern today are the scalability problem, testing, verification, and integration of neural network systems into the modern environment. Neural network programs sometimes become unstable when applied to larger problems. The defence, nuclear and space industries are concerned about the issue of testing and verification. The mathematical theories used to guarantee the performance of an applied neural network are still under development. The solution for the time being may be to train and test these intelligent systems much as we do for humans. Also there are some more practical problems like:

  • the operational problem encountered when attempting to simulate the parallelism of neural networks. Since the majority of neural networks are simulated on sequential machines, giving rise to a very rapid increase in processing time requirements as size of the problem expands.
    Solution: implement neural networks directly in hardware, but these need a lot of development still.
  • instability to explain any results that they obtain. Networks function as "black boxes" whose rules of operation are completely unknown

The Future

Because gazing into the future is somewhat like gazing into a crystal ball, so it is better to quote some "predictions". Each prediction rests on some sort of evidence or established trend which, with extrapolation, clearly takes us into a new realm.

Prediction 1:
Neural Networks will fascinate user-specific systems for education, information processing, and entertainment. "Alternative ralities", produced by comprehensive environments, are attractive in terms of their potential for systems control, education, and entertainment. This is not just a far-out research trend, but is something which is becoming an increasing part of our daily existence, as witnessed by the growing interest in comprehensive "entertainment centers" in each home.
This "programming" would require feedback from the user in order to be effective but simple and "passive" sensors (e.g fingertip sensors, gloves, or wristbands to sense pulse, blood pressure, skin ionisation, and so on), could provide effective feedback into a neural control system. This could be achieved, for example, with sensors that would detect pulse, blood pressure, skin ionisation, and other variables which the system could learn to correlate with a person’s response state.

Prediction 2:
Neural networks, integrated with other artificial intelligence technologies, methods for direct culture of nervous tissue, and other exotic technologies such as genetic engineering, will allow us to develop radical and exotic life-forms whether man, machine, or hybrid.

Prediction 3:
Neural networks will allow us to explore new realms of human capabillity realms previously available only with extensive training and personal discipline. So a specific state of consiously induced neurophysiologically observable awareness is necessary in order to facilitate a man machine system interface.

Conclusion

The computing world has a lot to gain fron neural networks. Their ability to learn by example makes them very flexible and powerful. Furthermore there is no need to devise an algorithm in order to perform a specific task; i.e. there is no need to understand the internal mechanisms of that task. They are also very well suited for real time systems because of their fast responseand computational times which are due to their parallel architecture.

Neural networks also contribute to other areas of research such as neurology and psychology. They are regularly used to model parts of living organisms and to investigate the internal mechanisms of the brain.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of neural networks is the possibility that some day ‘consious’ networks might be produced. There is a number of scientists arguing that conciousness is a ‘mechanical’ property and that ‘consious’ neural networks are a realistic possibility.

Finally, I would like to state that even though neural networks have a huge potential we will only get the best of them when they are intergrated with computing, AI, fuzzy logic and related subjects.

 

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