neural network

Contributor(s): Lee Giles

In information technology, a neural network is a system of programs and data structures that approximates the operation of the human brain. A neural network usually involves a large number of processors operating in parallel, each with its own small sphere of knowledge and access to data in its local memory. Typically, a neural network is initially "trained" or fed large amounts of data and rules about data relationships (for example, "A grandfather is older than a person's father"). A program can then tell the network how to behave in response to an external stimulus (for example, to input from a computer user who is interacting with the network) or can initiate activity on its own (within the limits of its access to the external world).

In making determinations, neural networks use several principles, including gradient-based training, fuzzy logic, genetic algorithms, and Bayesian methods. Neural networks are sometimes described in terms of knowledge layers, with, in general, more complex networks having deeper layers. In feedforward systems, learned relationships about data can "feed forward" to higher layers of knowledge. Neural networks can also learn temporal concepts and have been widely used in signal processing and time series analysis.

Current applications of neural networks include: oil exploration data analysis, weather prediction, the interpretation of nucleotide sequences in biology labs, and the exploration of models of thinking and consciousness. In his novel, Galatea 2.2, Richard Powers envisioned a neural network (named "Helen") that could be taught to pass a comprehensive exam in English literature.

This was first published in July 2006

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