An artificial neural network (ANN) is a mathematical model or computational model based on biological neural networks.
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.
An artificial neural network consists of an interconnected group of artificial neurons and processes information using a connectionist approach to computation. In most cases an ANN is an adaptive system that changes its structure based on external or internal information that flows through the network during the learning phase. Neural networks are non-linear statistical data modeling tools. They can be used to model complex relationships between inputs and outputs or to find patterns in data.
There is no precise agreed-upon definition among researchers as to what a neural network is, but most would agree that it involves a network of simple processing elements (neurons), which can exhibit complex global behavior, determined by the connections between the processing elements and element parameters. The original inspiration for the technique came from examination of the central nervous system and the neurons (and their axons, dendrites and synapses) which constitute one of its most significant information processing elements (see neuroscience). In a neural network model, simple nodes, called variously "neurons", "neurodes", "PEs" ("processing elements") 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.
These networks are also similar to the biological neural networks in the sense that functions are performed collectively and in parallel by the units, rather than there being a clear delineation of subtasks to which various units are assigned. Currently, the term Artificial Neural Network (ANN) tends to refer mostly to neural network models employed in statistics, cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence. Neural network models designed with emulation of the central nervous system (CNS) in mind are a subject of theoretical neuroscience (computational neuroscience).
In modern software implementations of artificial neural networks the approach inspired by biology has for the most part 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. While the more general approach of such adaptive systems is more suitable for real-world problem solving, it has far less to do with the traditional artificial intelligence connectionist models. What they do have in common, however, is the principle of non-linear, distributed, parallel and local processing and adaptation.
Models: Neural network models in artificial intelligence are usually referred to as artificial neural networks (ANNs); these are essentially simple mathematical models defining a function . Each type of ANN model corresponds to a class of such functions.
The word network in the term artificial neural network arises because the function f(x) is defined as a composition of other functions gi(x), which can further be defined as a composition of other functions. This can be conveniently represented as a network structure, with arrows depicting the dependencies between variables.
Learning: What has attracted the most interest in neural networks is the possibility of learning. Given a specific task to solve, and a class of functions F, learning means using a set of observations to solve the task in some optimal sense.
Applications: The utility of artificial neural network models lies in the fact that they can be used to infer a function from observations. This is particularly useful in applications where the complexity of the data or task makes the design of such a function by hand impractical. The tasks to which artificial neural networks are applied tend to fall within the following broad categories:
- Function approximation, or regression analysis, including time series prediction, fitness approximation and modeling.
- Classification, including pattern and sequence recognition, novelty detection and sequential decision making.
- Data processing, including filtering, clustering, blind source separation and compression.
- Robotics, including directing manipulators, Computer numerical control.
Application areas include system identification and control (vehicle control, process control), quantum chemistry, game-playing and decision making (backgammon, chess, racing), pattern recognition (radar systems, face identification, object recognition and more), sequence recognition (gesture, speech, handwritten text recognition), medical diagnosis, financial applications (automated trading systems), data mining (or knowledge discovery in databases, "KDD"), visualization and e-mail spam filtering.
Neural network software is used to simulate, research, develop and apply artificial neural networks, biological neural networks and in some cases a wider array of adaptive systems.
A physical neural network is a type of artificial neural network in which an electrically adjustable resistance material is used to emulate the function of a neural synapse. "Physical" neural network is used to emphasize the reliance on physical hardware used to emulate neurons as opposed to software-based approaches which simulate neural networks. This terminology has been used to describe a type of artificial neural network patented by inventor Alex Nugent of KnowmTech in which neural synapses are based on variable resistance nanoconnections. More generally the term is applicable to other artificial neural networks in which a memristor or other electrically adjustable resistance material is used to emulate a neural synapse.
In neuroscience, a biological neural network describes a population of physically interconnected neurons or a group of disparate neurons whose inputs or signalling targets define a recognizable circuit. Communication between neurons often involves an electrochemical process. The interface through which they interact with surrounding neurons usually consists of several dendrites (input connections), which are connected via synapses to other neurons, and one axon (output connection). If the sum of the input signals surpasses a certain threshold, the neuron sends an action potential (AP) at the axon hillock and transmits this electrical signal along the axon.
The brain, neural networks and computers: Neural networks, as used in artificial intelligence, have traditionally been viewed as simplified models of neural processing in the brain, even though the relation between this model and brain biological architecture is debated. A subject of current research in theoretical neuroscience is the question surrounding the degree of complexity and the properties that individual neural elements should have to reproduce something resembling animal intelligence. Historically, computers evolved from the von Neumann architecture, which is based on sequential processing and execution of explicit instructions. On the other hand, the origins of neural networks are based on efforts to model information processing in biological systems, which may rely largely on parallel processing as well as implicit instructions based on recognition of patterns of 'sensory' input from external sources. In other words, at its very heart a neural network is a complex statistical processor (as opposed to being tasked to sequentially process and execute).
Criticism: A. K. Dewdney, a former Scientific American columnist, wrote in 1997, “Although neural nets do solve a few toy problems, their powers of computation are so limited that I am surprised anyone takes them seriously as a general problem-solving tool.”
Arguments against Dewdney's position are that neural nets have been successfully used to solve many complex and diverse tasks, ranging from autonomously flying aircraft to detecting credit card fraud.
Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)