Neurons

Created by Jijith Nadumuri at 28 Apr 2010 17:38 and updated at 29 Apr 2010 07:00

Main Article Neural Nets

Biological Neuron

The fundamental processing element of a neural network is a neuron. This building block of human awareness encompasses a few general capabilities. Basically, a biological neuron receives inputs from other sources, combines them in some way, performs a generally nonlinear operation on the result, and then outputs the final result.

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Biological Neuron

Within humans there are many variations on this basic type of neuron, further complicating man's attempts at electrically replicating the process of thinking. Yet, all natural neurons have the same four basic components. These components are known by their biological names - dendrites, soma, axon, and synapses. Dendrites are hair-like extensions of the soma which act like input channels. These input channels receive their input through the synapses of other neurons. The soma then processes these incoming signals over time. The soma then turns that processed value into an output which is sent out to other neurons through the axon and the synapses. Recent experimental data has provided further evidence that biological neurons are structurally more complex than the simplistic explanation above. They are significantly more complex than the existing artificial neurons that are built into today's artificial neural networks. As biology provides a better understanding of neurons, and as technology advances, network designers can continue to improve their systems by building upon man's understanding of the biological brain.

Artificial Neuron

The goal of artificial neural networks is not the grandiose recreation of the brain. On the contrary, neural network researchers are seeking an understanding of nature's capabilities for which people can engineer solutions to problems that have not been solved by traditional computing. To do this, the basic unit of neural networks, the artificial neurons, simulates the four basic functions of natural neurons.

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Artificial Neuron

Various inputs to the network are represented by the mathematical symbol, x(n). Each of these inputs are multiplied by a connection weight. These weights are represented by w(n). In the simplest case, these products are simply summed, fed through a transfer function to generate a result, and then output. This process lends itself to physical implementation on a large scale in a small package. This electronic implementation is still possible with other network structures which utilize different summing functions as well as different transfer functions.

Some applications require "black and white," or binary, answers. These applications include the recognition of text, the identification of speech, and the image deciphering of scenes. These applications are required to turn real-world inputs into discrete values. These potential values are limited to some known set, like the ASCII characters or the most common 50,000 English words. Because of this limitation of output options, these applications don't always utilize networks composed of neurons that simply sum up, and thereby smooth, inputs. These networks may utilize the binary properties of ORing and ANDing of inputs. These functions, and many others, can be built into the summation and transfer functions of a network.

Other networks work on problems where the resolutions are not just one of several known values. These networks need to be capable of an infinite number of responses. Applications of this type include the "intelligence" behind robotic movements. This "intelligence" processes inputs and then creates outputs which actually cause some device to move. That movement can span an infinite number of very precise motions. These networks do indeed want to smooth their inputs which, due to limitations of sensors, come in non-continuous bursts, say thirty times a second. To do that, they might accept these inputs; sum that data, and then produce an output by, for example, applying a hyperbolic tangent as a transfer-function. In this manner, output values from the network are continuous and satisfy more real world interfaces.

Other applications might simply sum and compare to a threshold, thereby producing one of two possible outputs, a zero or a one. Other functions scale the outputs to match the application, such as the values minus one and one. Some functions even integrate the input data over time, creating time-dependent networks.

Main Article Neural Nets

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