Exploring Brain-like Computers

Source: Science Mag, Mar 2017

Neural networks, also called neural nets, are loosely based on the brain’s use of layers of neurons working together. Like the human brain, they aren’t hard-wired to produce a specific result—they “learn” on training sets of data, making and reinforcing connections between multiple inputs. A neural net might have a layer of neurons that look at pixels and a layer that looks at edges, like the outline of a person against a background. After being trained on thousands or millions of data points, a neural network algorithm will come up with its own rules on how to process new data. But it’s unclear what the algorithm is using from those data to come to its conclusions.

“Neural nets are fascinating mathematical models,” says Wojciech Samek, a researcher at Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications at the Heinrich Hertz Institute in Berlin. “They outperform classical methods in many fields, but are often used in a black box manner.”

In an attempt to unlock this black box, Samek and his colleagues created software that can go through such networks backward in order to see where a certain decision was made, and how strongly this decision influenced the results.

Their method, which they will describe this month at the Centre of Office Automation and Information Technology and Telecommunication conference in Hanover, Germany, enables researchers to measure how much individual inputs, like pixels of an image, contribute to the overall conclusion. Pixels and areas are then given a numerical score for their importance. With that information, researchers can create visualizations that impose a mask over the image. The mask is most bright where the pixels are important and darkest in regions that have little or no effect on the neural net’s output.

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