Chapter 10. Introduction to Artificial Neural Networks

Birds inspired us to fly, burdock plants inspired velcro, and nature has inspired many other inventions. It seems only logical, then, to look at the brain’s architecture for inspiration on how to build an intelligent machine. This is the key idea that inspired artificial neural networks (ANNs). However, although planes were inspired by birds, they don’t have to flap their wings. Similarly, ANNs have gradually become quite different from their biological cousins. Some researchers even argue that we should drop the biological analogy altogether (e.g., by saying “units” rather than “neurons”), lest we restrict our creativity to biologically plausible systems.1

ANNs are at the very core of Deep Learning. They are versatile, powerful, and scalable, making them ideal to tackle large and highly complex Machine Learning tasks, such as classifying billions of images (e.g., Google Images), powering speech recognition services (e.g., Apple’s Siri), recommending the best videos to watch to hundreds of millions of users every day (e.g., YouTube), or learning to beat the world champion at the game of Go by examining millions of past games and then playing against itself (DeepMind’s AlphaGo).

In this chapter, we will introduce artificial neural networks, starting with a quick tour of the very first ANN architectures. Then we will present Multi-Layer Perceptrons (MLPs) and implement one using TensorFlow to tackle the MNIST digit classification ...

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