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Delving into Deep Learning

The latest neural networks learn to see and hear, and maybe even dream.

Brian Hayes

Multilayer Networks

2014-05HayesFp188.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageThe new deep networks are not just deeper; they are larger in all dimensions, with more neurons, more layers, and more connections. A project called Google Brain, begun in 2011, had a million neurons and a billion connections. (After perusing 10 million images from YouTube, Google Brain concluded that the Internet is full of cats.)

A prerequisite for bigger networks is more hardware. Google Brain ran on a cluster of 16,000 computers. But hardware alone is not enough to tame the complexities of training multilayer networks. Another contribution is the concept of pretraining, which addresses the problem of how to set the initial weights in a network. If you start by making all the weights very small, it takes forever to reach a state where anything interesting happens. On the other hand, large initial weights raise the likelihood of getting trapped prematurely in a local optimum. Pretraining primes the system to follow a more fruitful path.

Among all the ideas that animate the deep learning movement, the one I find most evocative comes from Hinton. He suggests that the networks must not only perceive and reason but also sleep and dream. The dreaming allows the system to augment its own training set.

Underlying this metaphor is the idea that the layers of a neural network represent information at progressively higher levels of abstraction. In face recognition the bottom level holds the raw input data—an array of pixels. The lower neural layers capture simple, local features of the image, such as oriented edges or corners. Activity in the higher levels represents larger and more complex features. At some point we encounter eyes and noses, and establish spatial relations between them. At the top is the concept of the face itself. In the artificial network as in the human mind, something suddenly clicks and the identification tumbles out: Aunt Em.

In people, this process also works in reverse. The mere thought of Aunt Em conjures up a vision of her face. Hinton devised a mechanism by which neural networks could also have visions and fantasies. All it requires is making the connections between layers bidirectional. In the conventional phase of the training process, information moves from bottom to top, assembling higher-level abstractions out of the bits and pieces found in the lower layers. In dreaming, the higher-level representations are projected downward through the layers, creating lower-level realizations of each concept. Connection weights are interpreted as probabilities to guide the process. At the bottom of the stack is an imaginary portrait. Generating such faux images contributes to learning in the same way that analyzing real images does. Hinton refers to the two-phase training regime as the sleep-wake cycle.

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