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========== Questions ==========
********************************
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Learning
What are combination, activation, error, and objective functions?
Combination functions
Activation functions
Error functions
Objective functions
What are batch, incremental, online, offline, deterministic,
stochastic, adaptive, instantaneous, pattern, epoch, constructive, and
sequential learning?
Batch vs. Incremental Learning (also Instantaneous, Pattern, and
Epoch)
Online vs. Offline Learning
Deterministic, Stochastic, and Adaptive Learning
Constructive Learning (Growing networks)
Sequential Learning, Catastrophic Interference, and the
StabilityPlasticity Dilemma
What is backprop?
What learning rate should be used for backprop?
What are conjugate gradients, LevenbergMarquardt, etc.?
How does illconditioning affect NN training?
How should categories be encoded?
Why not code binary inputs as 0 and 1?
Why use a bias/threshold?
Why use activation functions?
How to avoid overflow in the logistic function?
What is a softmax activation function?
What is the curse of dimensionality?
How do MLPs compare with RBFs?
Hybrid training and the curse of dimensionality
Additive inputs
Redundant inputs
Irrelevant inputs
What are OLS and subset/stepwise regression?
Should I normalize/standardize/rescale the data?
Should I standardize the input variables?
Should I standardize the target variables?
Should I standardize the variables for unsupervised learning?
Should I standardize the input cases?
Should I nonlinearly transform the data?
How to measure importance of inputs?
What is ART?
What is PNN?
What is GRNN?
What does unsupervised learning learn?
Help! My NN won't learn! What should I do?
Part 3: Generalization
Part 4: Books, data, etc.
Part 5: Free software
Part 6: Commercial software
Part 7: Hardware and miscellaneous

Subject: What are combination, activation, error, and
=====================================================
objective functions?
=====================
Most neural networks involve combination, activation, error, and objective
functions.
Combination functions
+++++++++++++++++++++
Each noninput unit in a neural network combines values that are fed into it
via synaptic connections from other units, producing a single value called
the "net input". There is no standard term in the NN literature for the
function that combines values. In this FAQ, it will be called the
"combination function". The combination function is a vectorto scalar
function. Most NNs use either a linear combination function (as in MLPs) or
a Euclidean distance combination function (as in RBF networks). There is a
detailed discussion of networks using these two kinds of combination
function under "How do MLPs compare with RBFs?"
Activation functions
++++++++++++++++++++
Most units in neural networks transform their net input by using a
scalartoscalar function called an "activation function", yielding a value
called the unit's "activation". Except possibly for output units, the
activation value is fed via synaptic connections to one or more other units.
The activation function is sometimes called a "transfer", and activation
functions with a bounded range are often called "squashing" functions, such
as the commonly used tanh (hyperbolic tangent) and logistic (1/(1+exp(x))))
functions. If a unit does not transform its net input, it is said to have an
"identity" or "linear" activation function. The reason for using
nonidentity activation functions is explained under "Why use activation
functions?"
Error functions
+++++++++++++++
Most methods for training supervised networks require a measure of the
discrepancy between the networks output value and the target (desired
output) value (even unsupervised networks may require such a measure of
discrepancysee "What does unsupervised learning learn?").
Let:
o j be an index for cases
o X or X_j be an input vector
o W be a collection (vector, matrix, or some more complicated structure)
of weights and possibly other parameter estimates
o y or y_j be a target scalar
o M(X,W) be the output function computed by the network (the letter M
is used to suggest "mean", "median", or "mode")
o p or p_j = M(X_j,W) be an output (the letter p is used to suggest
"predicted value" or "posterior probability")
o r or r_j = y_j  p_j be a residual
o Q(y,X,W) be the casewise error function written to show the
dependence on the weights explicitly
o L(y,p) be the casewise error function in simpler form where the
weights are implicit (the letter L is used to suggest "loss" function)
o D be a list of indices designating a data set, including inputs and
target values
o DL designate the training (learning) set
o DV designate the validation set
o DT designate the test set
o #(D) be the number of elements (cases) in D
o NL be the number of cases in the training (learning) set
o NV be the number of cases in the validation set
o NT be the number of cases in the test set
o TQ(D,W) be the total error function
o AQ(D,W) be the average error function
The difference between the target and output values for case j, r_j =
y_j  p_j, is called the "residual" or "error". This is NOT the
"error function"! Note that the residual can be either positive or negative,
and negative residuals with large absolute values are typically considered
just as bad as large positive residuals. Error functions, on the other hand,
are defined so that bigger is worse.
Usually, an error function Q(y,X,W) is applied to each case and is
defined in terms of the target and output values Q(y,X,W) =
L(y,M(X,W)) = L(y,p). Error functions are also called "loss"
functions, especially when the two usages of the term "error" would sound
silly when used together. For example, instead of the awkward phrase
"squarederror error", you would typically use "squarederror loss" to mean
an error function equal to the squared residual, L(y,p) = (y 
p)^2. Another common error function is the classification loss for a
binary target y in {0, 1}:
L(y,p) = 0 if yp < 0.5
1 otherwise
The error function for an entire data set is usually defined as the sum of
the casewise error functions for all the cases in a data set:
TQ(D,W) = sum Q(y_j,X_j,W)
j in D
Thus, for squarederror loss, the total error is the sum of squared errors
(i.e., residuals), abbreviated SSE. For classification loss, the total error
is the number of misclassified cases.
It is often more convenient to work with the average (i.e, arithmetic mean)
error:
AQ(D,W) = TQ(D,W)/#(D)
For squarederror loss, the average error is the mean or average of squared
errors (i.e., residuals), abbreviated MSE or ASE (statisticians have a
slightly different meaning for MSE in linear models,
TQ(D,W)/[#(D)#(W)] ). For classification loss, the average error
is the proportion of misclassified cases. The average error is also called
the "empirical risk."
Using the average error instead of the total error is especially convenient
when using batch backproptype training methods where the user must supply a
learning rate to multiply by the negative gradient to compute the change in
the weights. If you use the gradient of the average error, the choice of
learning rate will be relatively insensitive to the number of training
cases. But if you use the gradient of the total error, you must use smaller
learning rates for larger training sets. For example, consider any training
set DL_1 and a second training set DL_2 created by duplicating every
case in DL_1. For any set of weights, DL_1 and DL_2 have the same
average error, but the total error of DL_2 is twice that of DL_1. Hence
the gradient of the total error of DL_2 is twice the gradient for DL_1.
So if you use the gradient of the total error, the learning rate for DL_2
should be half the learning rate for DL_1. But if you use the gradient of
the average error, you can use the same learning rate for both training
sets, and you will get exactly the same results from batch training.
The term "error function" is commonly used to mean any of the functions,
Q(y,X,W), L(y,p), TQ(D,W), or AQ(D,W). You can usually tell
from the context which function is the intended meaning. The term "error
surface" refers to TQ(D,W) or AQ(D,W) as a function of W.
Objective functions
+++++++++++++++++++
The objective function is what you directly try to minimize during training.
Neural network training is often performed by trying to minimize the total
error TQ(DL,W) or, equivalently, the average error AQ(DL,W) for the
training set, as a function of the weights W. However, as discussed in Part
3 of the FAQ, minimizing training error can lead to overfitting and poor
generalization if the number of training cases is small relative to the
complexity of the network. A common approach to improving generalization
error is regularization, i.e., trying to minimize an objective function that
is the sum of the total error function and a regularization function. The
regularization function is a function of the weights W or of the output
function M(X,W). For example, in weight decay, the regularization
function is the sum of squared weights. A crude form of Bayesian learning
can be done using a regularization function that is the log of the prior
density of the weights (weight decay is a special case of this). For more
information on regularization, see Part 3 of the FAQ.
If no regularization function is used, the objective function is equal to
the total or average error function (or perhaps some other monotone function
thereof).

Subject: What are batch, incremental, online, offline,
========================================================
deterministic, stochastic, adaptive, instantaneous,
===================================================
pattern, constructive, and sequential learning?
================================================
There are many ways to categorize learning methods. The distinctions are
overlapping and can be confusing, and the terminology is used very
inconsistently. This answer attempts to impose some order on the chaos,
probably in vain.
Batch vs. Incremental Learning (also Instantaneous, Pattern, and
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Epoch)
++++++
Batch learning proceeds as follows:
Initialize the weights.
Repeat the following steps:
Process all the training data.
Update the weights.
Incremental learning proceeds as follows:
Initialize the weights.
Repeat the following steps:
Process one training case.
Update the weights.
In the above sketches, the exact meaning of "Process" and "Update" depends
on the particular training algorithm and can be quite complicated for
methods such as LevenbergMarquardt (see "What are conjugate gradients,
LevenbergMarquardt, etc.?"). Standard backprop (see What is backprop?) is
quite simple, though. Batch standard backprop (without momentum) proceeds as
follows:
Initialize the weights W.
Repeat the following steps:
Process all the training data DL to compute the gradient
of the average error function AQ(DL,W).
Update the weights by subtracting the gradient times the
learning rate.
Incremental standard backprop (without momentum) can be done as follows:
Initialize the weights W.
Repeat the following steps for j = 1 to NL:
Process one training case (y_j,X_j) to compute the gradient
of the error (loss) function Q(y_j,X_j,W).
Update the weights by subtracting the gradient times the
learning rate.
Alternatively, the index j can be chosen randomly each type the loop is
executed, or j can be chosen from a random permutation.
The question of when to stop training is very complicated. Some of the
possibilities are:
o Stop when the average error function for the training set becomes small.
o Stop when the gradient of the average error function for the training set
becomes small.
o Stop when the average error function for the validation set starts to go
up, and use the weights from the step that yielded the smallest
validation error. For details, see "What is early stopping?"
o Stop when your boredom level is no longer tolerable.
It is very important NOT to use the following methodwhich does not work
but is often mistakenly used by beginners:
Initialize the weights W.
Repeat the following steps for j = 1 to NL:
Repeat the following steps until Q(y_j,X_j,W) is small:
Compute the gradient of Q(y_j,X_j,W).
Update the weights by subtracting the gradient times the
learning rate.
The reason this method does not work is that by the time you have finished
processing the second case, the network will have forgotten what it learned
about the first case, and when you are finished with the third case, the
network will have forgotten what it learned about the first two cases, and
so on. If you really need to use a method like this, see the section below
on "Sequential Learning, Catastrophic Interference, and the
StabilityPlasticity Dilemma".
The term "batch learning" is used quite consistently in the NN literature,
but "incremental learning" is often used for online, constructive, or
sequential learning. The usage of "batch" and "incremental" in the NN FAQ
follows Bertsekas and Tsitsiklis (1996), one of the few references that
keeps the relevant concepts straight.
"Epoch learning" is synonymous with "batch learning."
"Instantaneous learning" and "pattern learning" are usually synonyms for
incremental learning. "Instantaneous learning" is a misleading term because
people often think it means learning instantaneously. "Pattern learning" is
easily confused with "pattern recognition". Hence these terms are not used
in the FAQ.
There are also intermediate methods, sometimes called minibatch:
Initialize the weights.
Repeat the following steps:
Process two or more, but not all training cases.
Update the weights.
Conventional numerical optimization techniques (see "What are conjugate
gradients, LevenbergMarquardt, etc.?") are batch algorithms. Conventional
stochastic approximation techniques (see below) are incremental algorithms.
For a theoretical discussion comparing batch and incremental learning, see
Bertsekas and Tsitsiklis (1996, Chapter 3).
For more information on incremental learning, see Saad (1998), but note that
the authors in that volume do not reliably distinguish between online and
incremental learning.
Online vs. Offline Learning
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
In offline learning, all the data are stored and can be accessed
repeatedly. Batch learning is always offline.
In online learning, each case is discarded after it is processed and the
weights are updated. Online training is always incremental.
Incremental learning can be done either online or offline.
With offline learning, you can compute the objective function for any fixed
set of weights, so you can see whether you are making progess in training.
You can compute a minimum of the objective function to any desired
precision. You can use a variety of algorithms for avoiding bad local
minima, such as multiple random initializations or global optimization
algorithms. You can compute the error function on a validation set and use
early stopping or choose from different networks to improve generalization.
You can use crossvalidation and bootstrapping to estimate generalization
error. You can compute prediction and confidence intervals (error bars).
With online learning you can do none of these things because you cannot
compute the objective function on the training set or the error function on
the validation set for a fixed set of weights, since these data sets are not
stored. Hence, online learning is generally more difficult and unreliable
than offline learning. Offline incremental learning does not have all
these problems of online learning, which is why it is important to
distinguish between the concepts of online and incremental learning.
Some of the theoretical difficulties of online learning are alleviated when
the assumptions of stochastic learning hold (see below) and training is
assumed to proceed indefinitely.
For more information on online learning, see Saad (1998), but note that the
authors in that volume do not reliably distinguish between online and
incremental learning.
Deterministic, Stochastic, and Adaptive Learning
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Deterministic learning is based on optimization of an objective function
that can be recomputed many times and always produces the same value given
the same weights. Deterministic learning is always offline.
Stochastic methods are used when computation of the objective function is
corrupted by noise. In particular, basic stochastic approximation is a form
of online gradient descent learning in which the training cases are
obtained by a stationary random process:
Initialize the weights.
Initialize the learning rate.
Repeat the following steps:
Randomly select one (or possibly more) case(s)
from the population.
Update the weights by subtracting the gradient
times the learning rate.
Reduce the learning rate according to an
appropriate schedule.
In stochastic online learning, the noisecorrupted objective function is
the error function for any given case, assuming that the casewise error
function has some stationary random distribution. The learning rate must
gradually decrease towards zero during training to guarantee convergence of
the weights to a local minimum of the noiseless objective function. This
gradual reduction of the learning rate is often called "annealing."
If the function that the network is trying to learn changes over time, the
casewise error function does not have a stationary random distribution. To
allow the network to track changes over time, the learning rate must be kept
strictly away from zero. Learning methods that track a changing environment
are often called "adaptive" (as in adaptive vector quantization, Gersho and
Gray, 1992) or "continuous" rather than "stochastic". There is a tradeoff
between accuracy and speed of adaptation. Adaptive learning does not
converge in a stationary environment. Hence the longrun properties of
stochastic learning and adaptive learning are quite different, even though
the algorithms may differ only in the sequence of learning rates.
The object of adaptive learning is to forget the past when it is no longer
relevant. If you want to remember the past in a changing learning
environment, then you would be more interested in sequential learning (see
below).
In stochastic learning with a suitably annealed learning rate, overtraining
does not occur because the more you train, the more data you have, and the
network converges toward a local optimum of the objective function for the
entire population, not a local optimum for a finite training set. Of course,
this conclusion does not hold if you train by cycling through a finite
training set instead of collecting new data on every step.
For a theoretical discussion of stochastic learning, see Bertsekas and
Tsitsiklis (1996, Chapter 4). For further references on stochastic
approximation, see "What is backprop?" For adaptive filtering, see Haykin
(1996).
The term "adaptive learning" is sometimes used for gradient methods in which
the learning rate is changed during training.
Constructive Learning (Growing networks)
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Constructive learning adds units or connections to the network during
training. Typically, constructive learning begins with a network with no
hidden units, which is trained for a while. Then without altering the
existing weights, one or more new hidden units are added to the network,
training resumes, and so on. Many variations are possible, involving
different patterns of connections and schemes for freezing and thawing
weights. The most popular constructive algorithm is cascade correlation
(Fahlman and Lebiere, 1990), of which many variations are possible (e.g.,
Littmann and Ritter, 1996; Prechelt, 1997). Various other constructive
algorithms are summarized in Smieja (1993), Kwok and Yeung (1997; also other
papers at http://info.cs.ust.hk/faculty/dyyeung/paper/cnn.html), and Reed
and Marks (1999). For theory, see Baum (1989), Jones (1992), and Meir and
Maiorov (1999). Lutz Prechelt has a bibliography on constructive algorithms
at http://wwwipd.ira.uka.de/~prechelt/NN/construct.bib
Constructive algorithms can be highly effective for escaping bad local
minima of the objective function, and are often much faster than algorithms
for global optimization such as simulated annealing and genetic algorithms.
A wellknown example is the twospirals problem, which is very difficult to
learn with standard backprop but relatively easy to learn with cascade
correlation (Fahlman and Lebiere, 1990). Some of the DonohoJohnstone
benchmarks (especially "bumps") are almost impossible to learn with standard
backprop but can be learned very accurately with constructive algorithms
(see ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/dojo/dojo.html.)
Constructive learning is commonly used to train multilayer perceptrons in
which the activation functions are step functions. Such networks are
difficult to train nonconstructively because the objective function is
discontinuous and gradientdescent methods cannot be used. Several clever
constructive algorithms (such as Upstart, Tiling, Marchand, etc.) have been
devised whereby a multilayer perceptron is constructed by training a
sequence of perceptrons, each of which is trained by some standard method
such as the wellknown perceptron or pocket algorithms. Most constructive
algorithms of this kind are designed so that the training error goes to zero
when the network gets sufficiently large. Such guarantees do not apply to
the generalization error; you should guard against overfitting when you are
using constructive algorithms just as with nonconstructive algorithms (see
part 3 of the FAQ, especially "What is overfitting and how can I avoid it?")
Logically, you would expect "destructive" learning to start with a large
network and delete units during training, but I have never seen this term
used. The process of deleting units or connections is usually called
"pruning" (Reed, 1993; Reed and Marks 1999). The term "selectionism" has
also been used as the opposite of "constructivism" in cognitive neuroscience
(Quartz and Sejnowski, 1997).
Sequential Learning, Catastrophic Interference, and the
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
StabilityPlasticity Dilemma
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
"Sequential learning" sometimes means incremental learning but also refers
to a very important problem in neuroscience (e.g., McClelland, McNaughton,
and O'Reilly 1995). To reduce confusion, the latter usage should be
preferred.
Sequential learning in its purest form operates on a sequence of training
sets as follows:
Initialize the weights.
Repeat the following steps:
Collect one or more training cases.
Train the network on the current training set
using any method.
Discard the current training set and all other
information related to training except the
weights.
Pure sequential learning differs from online learning in that most online
algorithms require storage of information in addition to the weights, such
as the learning rate or aproximations to the objective function or Hessian
Matrix. Such additional storage is not allowed in pure sequential learning.
Pure sequential learning is important as a model of how learning occurs in
real, biological brains. Humans and other animals are often observed to
learn new things without forgetting old things. But pure sequential learning
tends not to work well in artificial neural networks. With a fixed
architecture, distributed (rather than local) representations, and a
training algorithm based on minimizing an objective function, sequential
learning results in "catastrophic interference", because the minima of the
objective function for one training set may be totally diferent than the
minima for subsequent training sets. Hence each successive training set may
cause the network to forget completely all previous training sets. This
problem is also called the "stabilityplasticity dilemma."
Successful sequential learning usually requires one or more of the
following:
o Noisefree data.
o Constructive architectures.
o Local representations.
o Storage of extra information besides the weights (this is impure
sequential learning and is not biologically plausible unless a a
biological mechanism for storing the extra information is provided)
The connectionist literature on catastrophic interference seems oblivious to
statistical and numerical theory, and much of the research is based on the
ludicrous idea of using an autoassociative backprop network to model
recognition memory. Some of the problems with this approach are explained by
Sharkey and Sharkey (1995). Current research of the PDP variety is reviewed
by French (1999). PDP remedies for catastrophic forgetting generally require
cheating, i.e., storing information outside the network. For example,
pseudorehearsal (Robins, 1995) requires storing the distribution of the
inputs, although this fact is often overlooked. It appears that the only way
to avoid catastrophic interference in a PDPstyle network is to combine two
networks modularly: a fastlearning network to memorize data, and a
slowlearning network to generalize from data memorized by the fastlearning
network (McClelland, McNaughton, and O'Reilly 1995). The PDP literature
virtually ignores the ART literature (See "What is ART?"), which provides a
localist constructive solution to what the ART people call the
"stabilityplasticity dilemma." None of this research deals with sequential
learning in a statistically sound manner, and many of the methods proposed
for sequential learning require noisefree data. The statistical theory of
sufficient statistics makes it obvious that efficient sequential learning
requires the storage of additional information besides the weights in a
standard feedforward network. I know of no references to this subject in the
NN literature, but Bishop (1991) provided a mathematically sound treatment
of a closelyrelated problem.
References:
Baum, E.B. (1989), "A proposal for more powerful learning algorithms,"
Neural Computation, 1, 201207.
Bertsekas, D. P. and Tsitsiklis, J. N. (1996), NeuroDynamic
Programming, Belmont, MA: Athena Scientific, ISBN 1886529108.
Bishop, C. (1991), "A fast procedure for retraining the multilayer
perceptron," International Journal of Neural Systems, 2, 229236.
Fahlman, S.E., and Lebiere, C. (1990), "The CascadeCorrelation Learning
Architecture", in Touretzky, D. S. (ed.), Advances in Neural Information
Processing Systems 2,, Los Altos, CA: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, pp.
524532,
ftp://archive.cis.ohiostate.edu/pub/neuroprose/fahlman.cascortr.ps.Z,
http://www.rafaelni.hpg.com.br/arquivos/fahlmancascor.pdf
French, R.M. (1999), "Catastrophic forgetting in connectionist networks:
Causes, consequences and solutions," Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 3,
128135, http://www.fapse.ulg.ac.be/Lab/Trav/rfrench.html#TICS_cat_forget
Gersho, A. and Gray, R.M. (1992), Vector Quantization and Signal
Compression, Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Haykin, S. (1996), Adaptive Filter Theory, Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
PrenticeHall.
Jones, L. (1992), "A simple lemma on greedy approximation in Hilbert
space and convergence rate for projection pursuit regression and neural
network training," Annals of Statistics, 20, 608613.
Kwok, T.Y. and Yeung, D.Y. (1997), "Constructive algorithms for structure
learning in feedforward neural networks for regression problems," IEEE
Transactions on Neural Networks, volume 8, 630645.
Littmann, E., and Ritter, H. (1996), "Learning and generalization in
cascade network architectures," Neural Computation, 8, 15211539.
McClelland, J., McNaughton, B. and O'Reilly, R. (1995), "Why there are
complementary learning systems in the hippocampus and neocortex: Insights
from the successes and failures of connectionist models of learning and
memory," Psychological Review, 102, 419457.
Meir, R., and Maiorov, V. (1999), "On the optimality of incremental
neural network algorithms," in Kerans, M.S., Solla, S.A., amd Cohn, D.A.
(eds.), Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 11,
Cambridge,MA: The MIT Press, pp. 295301.
Prechelt, L. (1997), "Investigation of the CasCor Family of Learning
Algorithms," Neural Networks, 10, 885896,
http://wwwipd.ira.uka.de/~prechelt/Biblio/#CasCor
Quartz, S.R., and Sejnowski, T.J. (1997), "The neural basis of cognitive
development: A constructivist manifesto," Behavioral and Brain Sciences,
20, 537596, ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/BBS/bbs.quartz
Reed, R. (1993), "Pruning algorithmsA survey," IEEE Transactions on
Neural Networks, 4, 740747.
Reed, R.D., and Marks, R.J, II (1999), Neural Smithing: Supervised
Learning in Feedforward Artificial Neural Networks, Cambridge, MA: The
MIT Press, ISBN 0262181908.
Robins, A. (1995), "Catastrophic Forgetting, Rehearsal, and
Pseudorehearsal," Connection Science, 7, 123146.
Saad, D., ed. (1998), OnLine Learning in Neural Networks, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Sharkey, N.E., and Sharkey, A.J.C. (1995), "An analysis of catastrophic
interference," Connection Science, 7, 301329.
Smieja, F.J. (1993), "Neural Network Constructive Algorithms: Trading
Generalization for Learning Efficiency?" Circuits, Systems and Signal
Processing, 12, 331374, ftp://borneo.gmd.de/pub/as/janus/pre_6.ps

Subject: What is backprop?
===========================
"Backprop" is short for "backpropagation of error". The term
backpropagation causes much confusion. Strictly speaking, backpropagation
refers to the method for computing the gradient of the casewise error
function with respect to the weights for a feedforward network, a
straightforward but elegant application of the chain rule of elementary
calculus (Werbos 1974/1994). By extension, backpropagation or backprop
refers to a training method that uses backpropagation to compute the
gradient. By further extension, a backprop network is a feedforward network
trained by backpropagation.
"Standard backprop" is a euphemism for the generalized delta rule, the
training algorithm that was popularized by Rumelhart, Hinton, and Williams
in chapter 8 of Rumelhart and McClelland (1986), which remains the most
widely used supervised training method for neural nets. The generalized
delta rule (including momentum) is called the "heavy ball method" in the
numerical analysis literature (Polyak 1964, 1987; Bertsekas 1995, 7879).
Standard backprop can be used for both batch training (in which the weights
are updated after processing the entire training set) and incremental
training (in which the weights are updated after processing each case). For
batch training, standard backprop usually converges (eventually) to a local
minimum, if one exists. For incremental training, standard backprop does not
converge to a stationary point of the error surface. To obtain convergence,
the learning rate must be slowly reduced. This methodology is called
"stochastic approximation" or "annealing".
The convergence properties of standard backprop, stochastic approximation,
and related methods, including both batch and incremental algorithms, are
discussed clearly and thoroughly by Bertsekas and Tsitsiklis (1996). For a
practical discussion of backprop training in MLPs, Reed and Marks (1999) is
the best reference I've seen.
For batch processing, there is no reason to suffer through the slow
convergence and the tedious tuning of learning rates and momenta of standard
backprop. Much of the NN research literature is devoted to attempts to speed
up backprop. Most of these methods are inconsequential; two that are
effective are Quickprop (Fahlman 1989) and RPROP (Riedmiller and Braun
1993). Concise descriptions of these algorithms are given by Schiffmann,
Joost, and Werner (1994) and Reed and Marks (1999). But conventional methods
for nonlinear optimization are usually faster and more reliable than any of
the "props". See "What are conjugate gradients, LevenbergMarquardt, etc.?".
Incremental backprop can be highly efficient for some large data sets if you
select a good learning rate, but that can be difficult to do (see "What
learning rate should be used for backprop?"). Also, incremental backprop is
very sensitive to illconditioning (see
ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/illcond/illcond.html).
For more online info on backprop, see Donald Tveter's Backpropagator's
Review at http://www.dontveter.com/bpr/bpr.html or
http://gannoo.uce.ac.uk/bpr/bpr.html.
References on backprop:
Bertsekas, D. P. (1995), Nonlinear Programming, Belmont, MA: Athena
Scientific, ISBN 1886529140.
Bertsekas, D. P. and Tsitsiklis, J. N. (1996), NeuroDynamic
Programming, Belmont, MA: Athena Scientific, ISBN 1886529108.
Polyak, B.T. (1964), "Some methods of speeding up the convergence of
iteration methods," Z. Vycisl. Mat. i Mat. Fiz., 4, 117.
Polyak, B.T. (1987), Introduction to Optimization, NY: Optimization
Software, Inc.
Reed, R.D., and Marks, R.J, II (1999), Neural Smithing: Supervised
Learning in Feedforward Artificial Neural Networks, Cambridge, MA: The
MIT Press, ISBN 0262181908.
Rumelhart, D.E., Hinton, G.E., and Williams, R.J. (1986), "Learning
internal representations by error propagation", in Rumelhart, D.E. and
McClelland, J. L., eds. (1986), Parallel Distributed Processing:
Explorations in the Microstructure of Cognition, Volume 1, 318362,
Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Werbos, P.J. (1974/1994), The Roots of Backpropagation, NY: John Wiley &
Sons. Includes Werbos's 1974 Harvard Ph.D. thesis, Beyond Regression.
References on stochastic approximation:
Robbins, H. & Monro, S. (1951), "A Stochastic Approximation Method",
Annals of Mathematical Statistics, 22, 400407.
Kiefer, J. & Wolfowitz, J. (1952), "Stochastic Estimation of the Maximum
of a Regression Function," Annals of Mathematical Statistics, 23,
462466.
Kushner, H.J., and Yin, G. (1997), Stochastic Approximation Algorithms
and Applications, NY: SpringerVerlag.
Kushner, H.J., and Clark, D. (1978), Stochastic Approximation Methods
for Constrained and Unconstrained Systems, SpringerVerlag.
White, H. (1989), "Some Asymptotic Results for Learning in Single Hidden
Layer Feedforward Network Models", J. of the American Statistical Assoc.,
84, 10081013.
References on better props:
Fahlman, S.E. (1989), "FasterLearning Variations on BackPropagation: An
Empirical Study", in Touretzky, D., Hinton, G, and Sejnowski, T., eds.,
Proceedings of the 1988 Connectionist Models Summer School, Morgan
Kaufmann, 3851.
Reed, R.D., and Marks, R.J, II (1999), Neural Smithing: Supervised
Learning in Feedforward Artificial Neural Networks, Cambridge, MA: The
MIT Press, ISBN 0262181908.
Riedmiller, M. (199?), "Advanced supervised learning in multilayer
perceptronsfrom backpropagtion to adaptive learning algorithms,"
ftp://i11s16.ira.uka.de/pub/neuro/papers/riedml.csi94.ps.Z
Riedmiller, M. and Braun, H. (1993), "A Direct Adaptive Method for Faster
Backpropagation Learning: The RPROP Algorithm", Proceedings of the IEEE
International Conference on Neural Networks 1993, San Francisco: IEEE.
Schiffmann, W., Joost, M., and Werner, R. (1994), "Optimization of the
Backpropagation Algorithm for Training Multilayer Perceptrons,"
ftp://archive.cis.ohiostate.edu/pub/neuroprose/schiff.bp_speedup.ps.Z

Subject: What learning rate should be used for backprop?
=========================================================
In standard backprop, too low a learning rate makes the network learn very
slowly. Too high a learning rate makes the weights and objective function
diverge, so there is no learning at all. If the objective function is
quadratic, as in linear models, good learning rates can be computed from the
Hessian matrix (Bertsekas and Tsitsiklis, 1996). If the objective function
has many local and global optima, as in typical feedforward NNs with hidden
units, the optimal learning rate often changes dramatically during the
training process, since the Hessian also changes dramatically. Trying to
train a NN using a constant learning rate is usually a tedious process
requiring much trial and error. For some examples of how the choice of
learning rate and momentum interact with numerical condition in some very
simple networks, see ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/illcond/illcond.html
With batch training, there is no need to use a constant learning rate. In
fact, there is no reason to use standard backprop at all, since vastly more
efficient, reliable, and convenient batch training algorithms exist (see
Quickprop and RPROP under "What is backprop?" and the numerous training
algorithms mentioned under "What are conjugate gradients,
LevenbergMarquardt, etc.?").
Many other variants of backprop have been invented. Most suffer from the
same theoretical flaw as standard backprop: the magnitude of the change in
the weights (the step size) should NOT be a function of the magnitude of the
gradient. In some regions of the weight space, the gradient is small and you
need a large step size; this happens when you initialize a network with
small random weights. In other regions of the weight space, the gradient is
small and you need a small step size; this happens when you are close to a
local minimum. Likewise, a large gradient may call for either a small step
or a large step. Many algorithms try to adapt the learning rate, but any
algorithm that multiplies the learning rate by the gradient to compute the
change in the weights is likely to produce erratic behavior when the
gradient changes abruptly. The great advantage of Quickprop and RPROP is
that they do not have this excessive dependence on the magnitude of the
gradient. Conventional optimization algorithms use not only the gradient but
also secondorder derivatives or a line search (or some combination thereof)
to obtain a good step size.
With incremental training, it is much more difficult to concoct an algorithm
that automatically adjusts the learning rate during training. Various
proposals have appeared in the NN literature, but most of them don't work.
Problems with some of these proposals are illustrated by Darken and Moody
(1992), who unfortunately do not offer a solution. Some promising results
are provided by by LeCun, Simard, and Pearlmutter (1993), and by Orr and
Leen (1997), who adapt the momentum rather than the learning rate. There is
also a variant of stochastic approximation called "iterate averaging" or
"Polyak averaging" (Kushner and Yin 1997), which theoretically provides
optimal convergence rates by keeping a running average of the weight values.
I have no personal experience with these methods; if you have any solid
evidence that these or other methods of automatically setting the learning
rate and/or momentum in incremental training actually work in a wide variety
of NN applications, please inform the FAQ maintainer (saswss@unx.sas.com).
References:
Bertsekas, D. P. and Tsitsiklis, J. N. (1996), NeuroDynamic
Programming, Belmont, MA: Athena Scientific, ISBN 1886529108.
Darken, C. and Moody, J. (1992), "Towards faster stochastic gradient
search," in Moody, J.E., Hanson, S.J., and Lippmann, R.P., eds.
Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 4, San Mateo, CA:
Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, pp. 10091016.
Kushner, H.J., and Yin, G. (1997), Stochastic Approximation Algorithms
and Applications, NY: SpringerVerlag.
LeCun, Y., Simard, P.Y., and Pearlmetter, B. (1993), "Automatic learning
rate maximization by online estimation of the Hessian's eigenvectors,"
in Hanson, S.J., Cowan, J.D., and Giles, C.L. (eds.), Advances in Neural
Information Processing Systems 5, San Mateo, CA: Morgan Kaufmann, pp.
156163.
Orr, G.B. and Leen, T.K. (1997), "Using curvature information for fast
stochastic search," in Mozer, M.C., Jordan, M.I., and Petsche, T., (eds.)
Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 9, Cambrideg, MA: The
MIT Press, pp. 606612.

Subject: What are conjugate gradients,
======================================
LevenbergMarquardt, etc.?
===========================
Training a neural network is, in most cases, an exercise in numerical
optimization of a usually nonlinear objective function ("objective function"
means whatever function you are trying to optimize and is a slightly more
general term than "error function" in that it may include other quantities
such as penalties for weight decay; see "What are combination, activation,
error, and objective functions?" for more details).
Methods of nonlinear optimization have been studied for hundreds of years,
and there is a huge literature on the subject in fields such as numerical
analysis, operations research, and statistical computing, e.g., Bertsekas
(1995), Bertsekas and Tsitsiklis (1996), Fletcher (1987), and Gill, Murray,
and Wright (1981). Masters (1995) has a good elementary discussion of
conjugate gradient and LevenbergMarquardt algorithms in the context of NNs.
There is no single best method for nonlinear optimization. You need to
choose a method based on the characteristics of the problem to be solved.
For objective functions with continuous second derivatives (which would
include feedforward nets with the most popular differentiable activation
functions and error functions), three general types of algorithms have been
found to be effective for most practical purposes:
o For a small number of weights, stabilized Newton and GaussNewton
algorithms, including various LevenbergMarquardt and trustregion
algorithms, are efficient. The memory required by these algorithms is
proportional to the square of the number of weights.
o For a moderate number of weights, various quasiNewton algorithms are
efficient. The memory required by these algorithms is proportional to the
square of the number of weights.
o For a large number of weights, various conjugategradient algorithms are
efficient. The memory required by these algorithms is proportional to the
number of weights.
Additional variations on the above methods, such as limitedmemory
quasiNewton and double dogleg, can be found in textbooks such as Bertsekas
(1995). Objective functions that are not continuously differentiable are
more difficult to optimize. For continuous objective functions that lack
derivatives on certain manifolds, such as ramp activation functions (which
lack derivatives at the top and bottom of the ramp) and the
leastabsolutevalue error function (which lacks derivatives for cases with
zero error), subgradient methods can be used. For objective functions with
discontinuities, such as threshold activation functions and the
misclassificationcount error function, NelderMead simplex algorithm and
various secant methods can be used. However, these methods may be very slow
for large networks, and it is better to use continuously differentiable
objective functions when possible.
All of the above methods find local optimathey are not guaranteed to find
a global optimum. In practice, LevenbergMarquardt often finds better optima
for a variety of problems than do the other usual methods. I know of no
theoretical explanation for this empirical finding.
For global optimization, there are also a variety of approaches. You can
simply run any of the local optimization methods from numerous random
starting points. Or you can try more complicated methods designed for global
optimization such as simulated annealing or genetic algorithms (see Reeves
1993 and "What about Genetic Algorithms and Evolutionary Computation?").
Global optimization for neural nets is especially difficult because the
number of distinct local optima can be astronomical.
In most applications, it is advisable to train several networks with
different numbers of hidden units. Rather than train each network beginning
with completely random weights, it is usually more efficient to use
constructive learning (see "Constructive Learning (Growing networks)"),
where the weights that result from training smaller networks are used to
initialize larger networks. Constructive learning can be done with any of
the conventional optimization techniques or with the various "prop" methods,
and can be very effective at finding good local optima at less expense than
fullblown global optimization methods.
Another important consideration in the choice of optimization algorithms is
that neural nets are often illconditioned (Saarinen, Bramley, and Cybenko
1993), especially when there are many hidden units. Algorithms that use only
firstorder information, such as steepest descent and standard backprop, are
notoriously slow for illconditioned problems. Generally speaking, the more
use an algorithm makes of secondorder information, the better it will
behave under illconditioning. The following methods are listed in order of
increasing use of secondorder information: steepest descent, conjugate
gradients, quasiNewton, GaussNewton, NewtonRaphson. Unfortunately, the
methods that are better for severe illconditioning are the methods that are
preferable for a small number of weights, and the methods that are
preferable for a large number of weights are not as good at handling severe
illconditioning. Therefore for networks with many hidden units, it is
advisable to try to alleviate illconditioning by standardizing input and
target variables, choosing initial values from a reasonable range, and using
weight decay or Bayesian regularization methods. For more discussion of
illconditioning in neural nets, see
ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/illcond/illcond.html
Writing programs for conventional optimization algorithms is considerably
more difficult than writing programs for standard backprop. As "Jive Dadson"
said in comp.ai.neuralnets:
Writing a good conjugate gradient algorithm turned out to be a lot of
work. It's not even easy to find all the technical info you need. The
devil is in the details. There are a lot of details.
Indeed, some popular books on "numerical recipes" are notoriously bad (see
http://math.jpl.nasa.gov/nr/ for details). If you are not experienced in
both programming and numerical analysis, use software written by
professionals instead of trying to write your own. For a survey of
optimization software, see Moré and Wright (1993).
For more online information on numerical optimization see:
o The kangaroos, a nontechnical description of various optimization
methods, at ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/kangaroos.
o Sam Roweis's paper on LevenbergMarquardt at
http://www.gatsby.ucl.ac.uk/~roweis/notes.html
o Jonathan Shewchuk's paper on conjugate gradients, "An Introduction to the
Conjugate Gradient Method Without the Agonizing Pain," at
http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~jrs/jrspapers.html
o Lester Ingber's page on Adaptive Simulated Annealing (ASA), karate, etc.
at http://www.ingber.com/ or http://www.alumni.caltech.edu/~ingber/
o The Netlib repository, http://www.netlib.org/, containing freely
available software, documents, and databases of interest to the numerical
and scientific computing community.
o The linear and nonlinear programming FAQs at
http://www.mcs.anl.gov/home/otc/Guide/faq/.
o Arnold Neumaier's page on global optimization at
http://solon.cma.univie.ac.at/~neum/glopt.html.
o Simon Streltsov's page on global optimization at http://cad.bu.edu/go.
References:
Bertsekas, D. P. (1995), Nonlinear Programming, Belmont, MA: Athena
Scientific, ISBN 1886529140.
Bertsekas, D. P. and Tsitsiklis, J. N. (1996), NeuroDynamic
Programming, Belmont, MA: Athena Scientific, ISBN 1886529108.
Fletcher, R. (1987) Practical Methods of Optimization, NY: Wiley.
Gill, P.E., Murray, W. and Wright, M.H. (1981) Practical Optimization,
Academic Press: London.
Levenberg, K. (1944) "A method for the solution of certain problems in
least squares," Quart. Appl. Math., 2, 164168.
Marquardt, D. (1963) "An algorithm for leastsquares estimation of
nonlinear parameters," SIAM J. Appl. Math., 11, 431441. This is the
third most frequently cited paper in all the mathematical sciences.
Masters, T. (1995) Advanced Algorithms for Neural Networks: A C++
Sourcebook, NY: John Wiley and Sons, ISBN 0471105880
Moré, J.J. (1977) "The LevenbergMarquardt algorithm: implementation and
theory," in Watson, G.A., ed., Numerical Analysis, Lecture Notes in
Mathematics 630, SpringerVerlag, Heidelberg, 105116.
Moré, J.J. and Wright, S.J. (1993), Optimization Software Guide,
Philadelphia: SIAM, ISBN 0898713226.
Reed, R.D., and Marks, R.J, II (1999), Neural Smithing: Supervised
Learning in Feedforward Artificial Neural Networks, Cambridge, MA: The
MIT Press, ISBN 0262181908.
Reeves, C.R., ed. (1993) Modern Heuristic Techniques for Combinatorial
Problems, NY: Wiley.
Rinnooy Kan, A.H.G., and Timmer, G.T., (1989) Global Optimization: A
Survey, International Series of Numerical Mathematics, vol. 87, Basel:
Birkhauser Verlag.
Saarinen, S., Bramley, R., and Cybenko, G. (1993), "Illconditioning in
neural network training problems," Siam J. of Scientific Computing, 14,
693714.

Subject: How does illconditioning affect NN training?
=======================================================
Numerical condition is one of the most fundamental and important concepts in
numerical analysis. Numerical condition affects the speed and accuracy of
most numerical algorithms. Numerical condition is especially important in
the study of neural networks because illconditioning is a common cause of
slow and inaccurate results from backproptype algorithms. For more
information, see:
ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/illcond/illcond.html

Subject: How should categories be encoded?
===========================================
First, consider unordered categories. If you want to classify cases into one
of C categories (i.e. you have a categorical target variable), use 1ofC
coding. That means that you code C binary (0/1) target variables
corresponding to the C categories. Statisticians call these "dummy"
variables. Each dummy variable is given the value zero except for the one
corresponding to the correct category, which is given the value one. Then
use a softmax output activation function (see "What is a softmax activation
function?") so that the net, if properly trained, will produce valid
posterior probability estimates (McCullagh and Nelder, 1989; Finke and
Müller, 1994). If the categories are Red, Green, and Blue, then the data
would look like this:
Category Dummy variables
 
Red 1 0 0
Green 0 1 0
Blue 0 0 1
When there are only two categories, it is simpler to use just one dummy
variable with a logistic output activation function; this is equivalent to
using softmax with two dummy variables.
The common practice of using target values of .1 and .9 instead of 0 and 1
prevents the outputs of the network from being directly interpretable as
posterior probabilities, although it is easy to rescale the outputs to
produce probabilities (Hampshire and Pearlmutter, 1991, figure 3). This
practice has also been advocated on the grounds that infinite weights are
required to obtain outputs of 0 or 1 from a logistic function, but in fact,
weights of about 10 to 30 will produce outputs close enough to 0 and 1 for
all practical purposes, assuming standardized inputs. Large weights will not
cause overflow if the activation functions are coded properly; see "How to
avoid overflow in the logistic function?"
Another common practice is to use a logistic activation function for each
output. Thus, the outputs are not constrained to sum to one, so they are not
admissible posterior probability estimates. The usual justification advanced
for this procedure is that if a test case is not similar to any of the
training cases, all of the outputs will be small, indicating that the case
cannot be classified reliably. This claim is incorrect, since a test case
that is not similar to any of the training cases will require the net to
extrapolate, and extrapolation is thoroughly unreliable; such a test case
may produce all small outputs, all large outputs, or any combination of
large and small outputs. If you want a classification method that detects
novel cases for which the classification may not be reliable, you need a
method based on probability density estimation. For example, see "What is
PNN?".
It is very important not to use a single variable for an unordered
categorical target. Suppose you used a single variable with values 1, 2, and
3 for red, green, and blue, and the training data with two inputs looked
like this:
 1 1
 1 1
 1 1
 1 1

 X

 3 3 2 2
 3 3 2
 3 3 2 2
 3 3 2 2

+
Consider a test point located at the X. The correct output would be that X
has about a 5050 chance of being a 1 or a 3. But if you train with a single
target variable with values of 1, 2, and 3, the output for X will be the
average of 1 and 3, so the net will say that X is definitely a 2!
If you are willing to forego the simple posteriorprobability interpretation
of outputs, you can try more elaborate coding schemes, such as the
errorcorrecting output codes suggested by Dietterich and Bakiri (1995).
For an input with categorical values, you can use 1of(C1) coding if the
network has a bias unit. This is just like 1ofC coding, except that you
omit one of the dummy variables (doesn't much matter which one). Using all C
of the dummy variables creates a linear dependency on the bias unit, which
is not advisable unless you are using weight decay or Bayesian learning or
some such thing that requires all C weights to be treated on an equal basis.
1of(C1) coding looks like this:
Category Dummy variables
 
Red 1 0
Green 0 1
Blue 0 0
If you use 1ofC or 1of(C1) coding, it is important to standardize the
dummy inputs; see "Should I standardize the input variables?" "Why not code
binary inputs as 0 and 1?" for details.
Another possible coding is called "effects" coding or "deviations from
means" coding in statistics. It is like 1of(C1) coding, except that when
a case belongs to the category for the omitted dummy variable, all of the
dummy variables are set to 1, like this:
Category Dummy variables
 
Red 1 0
Green 0 1
Blue 1 1
As long as a bias unit is used, any network with effects coding can be
transformed into an equivalent network with 1of(C1) coding by a linear
transformation of the weights, so if you train to a global optimum, there
will be no difference in the outputs for these two types of coding. One
advantage of effects coding is that the dummy variables require no
standardizing, since effects coding directly produces values that are
approximately standardized.
If you are using weight decay, you want to make sure that shrinking the
weights toward zero biases ('bias' in the statistical sense) the net in a
sensible, usually smooth, way. If you use 1 of C1 coding for an input,
weight decay biases the output for the C1 categories towards the output for
the 1 omitted category, which is probably not what you want, although there
might be special cases where it would make sense. If you use 1 of C coding
for an input, weight decay biases the output for all C categories roughly
towards the mean output for all the categories, which is smoother and
usually a reasonable thing to do.
Now consider ordered categories. For inputs, some people recommend a
"thermometer code" (Smith, 1996; Masters, 1993) like this:
Category Dummy variables
 
Red 1 1 1
Green 0 1 1
Blue 0 0 1
However, thermometer coding is equivalent to 1ofC coding, in that for any
network using 1ofC coding, there exists a network with thermometer coding
that produces identical outputs; the weights in the thermometerencoded
network are just the differences of successive weights in the 1ofCencoded
network. To get a genuinely ordinal representation, you must constrain the
weights connecting the dummy variables to the hidden units to be nonnegative
(except for the first dummy variable). Another approach that makes some use
of the order information is to use weight decay or Bayesian learning to
encourage the the weights for all but the first dummy variable to be small.
It is often effective to represent an ordinal input as a single variable
like this:
Category Input
 
Red 1
Green 2
Blue 3
Although this representation involves only a single quantitative input,
given enough hidden units, the net is capable of computing nonlinear
transformations of that input that will produce results equivalent to any of
the dummy coding schemes. But using a single quantitative input makes it
easier for the net to use the order of the categories to generalize when
that is appropriate.
Bsplines provide a way of coding ordinal inputs into fewer than C variables
while retaining information about the order of the categories. See Brown and
Harris (1994) or Gifi (1990, 365370).
Target variables with ordered categories require thermometer coding. The
outputs are thus cumulative probabilities, so to obtain the posterior
probability of any category except the first, you must take the difference
between successive outputs. It is often useful to use a proportionalodds
model, which ensures that these differences are positive. For more details
on ordered categorical targets, see McCullagh and Nelder (1989, chapter 5).
References:
Brown, M., and Harris, C. (1994), Neurofuzzy Adaptive Modelling and
Control, NY: Prentice Hall.
Dietterich, T.G. and Bakiri, G. (1995), "Errorcorrecting output codes: A
general method for improving multiclass inductive learning programs," in
Wolpert, D.H. (ed.), The Mathematics of Generalization: The Proceedings
of the SFI/CNLS Workshop on Formal Approaches to Supervised Learning,
Santa Fe Institute Studies in the Sciences of Complexity, Volume XX,
Reading, MA: AddisonWesley, pp. 395407.
Finke, M. and Müller, K.R. (1994), "Estimating aposteriori
probabilities using stochastic network models," in Mozer, M., Smolensky,
P., Touretzky, D., Elman, J., and Weigend, A. (eds.), Proceedings of the
1993 Connectionist Models Summer School, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates, pp. 324331.
Gifi, A. (1990), Nonlinear Multivariate Analysis, NY: John Wiley & Sons,
ISBN 0471926205.
Hampshire II, J.B., and Pearlmutter, B. (1991), "Equivalence proofs for
multilayer perceptron classifiers and the Bayesian discriminant
function," in Touretzky, D.S., Elman, J.L., Sejnowski, T.J., and Hinton,
G.E. (eds.), Connectionist Models: Proceedings of the 1990 Summer
School, San Mateo, CA: Morgan Kaufmann, pp.159172.
Masters, T. (1993). Practical Neural Network Recipes in C++, San Diego:
Academic Press.
McCullagh, P. and Nelder, J.A. (1989) Generalized Linear Models, 2nd
ed., London: Chapman & Hall.
Smith, M. (1996). Neural Networks for Statistical Modeling, Boston:
International Thomson Computer Press, ISBN 1850328420.

Subject: Why not code binary inputs as 0 and 1?
================================================
The importance of standardizing input variables is discussed in detail under
"Should I standardize the input variables?" But for the benefit of those
people who don't believe in theory, here is an example using the 5bit
parity problem. The unstandardized data are:
x1 x2 x3 x4 x5 target
0 0 0 0 0 0
1 0 0 0 0 1
0 1 0 0 0 1
1 1 0 0 0 0
0 0 1 0 0 1
1 0 1 0 0 0
0 1 1 0 0 0
1 1 1 0 0 1
0 0 0 1 0 1
1 0 0 1 0 0
0 1 0 1 0 0
1 1 0 1 0 1
0 0 1 1 0 0
1 0 1 1 0 1
0 1 1 1 0 1
1 1 1 1 0 0
0 0 0 0 1 1
1 0 0 0 1 0
0 1 0 0 1 0
1 1 0 0 1 1
0 0 1 0 1 0
1 0 1 0 1 1
0 1 1 0 1 1
1 1 1 0 1 0
0 0 0 1 1 0
1 0 0 1 1 1
0 1 0 1 1 1
1 1 0 1 1 0
0 0 1 1 1 1
1 0 1 1 1 0
0 1 1 1 1 0
1 1 1 1 1 1
The network characteristics were:
Inputs: 5
Hidden units: 5
Outputs: 5
Activation for hidden units: tanh
Activation for output units: logistic
Error function: crossentropy
Initial weights: random normal with mean=0,
st.dev.=1/sqrt(5) for inputtohidden
=1 for hiddentooutput
Training method: batch standard backprop
Learning rate: 0.1
Momentum: 0.9
Minimum training iterations: 100
Maximum training iterations: 10000
One hundred networks were trained from different random initial weights. The
following bar chart shows the distribution of the average crossentropy
after training:
Frequency
 ****
 ****
80 + ****
 ****
 ****
 ****
60 + ****
 ****
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40 + ****
 ****
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20 + ****
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 **** **** ****

0.0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0
Average CrossEntropy
As you can see, very few networks found a good (near zero) local optimum.
Recoding the inputs from {0,1} to {1,1} produced the following distribution
of the average crossentropy after training:
Frequency
 ****
 **** **** ****
 **** **** ****
20 + **** **** ****
 **** **** ****
 **** **** ****
 **** **** ****
 **** **** ****
10 + **** **** **** ****
 **** **** **** **** ****
 **** **** **** **** **** ****
 **** **** **** **** **** **** ****
 **** **** **** **** **** **** **** ****

0.0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0
Average CrossEntropy
The results are dramatically better. The difference is due to simple
geometry. The initial hyperplanes pass fairly near the origin. If the data
are centered near the origin (as with {1,1} coding), the initial
hyperplanes will cut through the data in a variety of directions. If the
data are offset from the origin (as with {0,1} coding), many of the initial
hyperplanes will miss the data entirely, and those that pass through the
data will provide a only a limited range of directions, making it difficult
to find local optima that use hyperplanes that go in different directions.
If the data are far from the origin (as with {9,10} coding), most of the
initial hyperplanes will miss the data entirely, which will cause most of
the hidden units to saturate and make any learning difficult. See "Should I
standardize the input variables?" for more information.

Subject: Why use a bias/threshold?
===================================
Sigmoid hidden and output units usually use a "bias" or "threshold" term in
computing the net input to the unit. For a linear output unit, a bias term
is equivalent to an intercept in a regression model.
A bias term can be treated as a connection weight from a special unit with a
constant, nonzero activation value. The term "bias" is usually used with
respect to a "bias unit" with a constant value of one. The term "threshold"
is usually used with respect to a unit with a constant value of negative
one. Not all authors follow this distinction. Regardless of the terminology,
whether biases or thresholds are added or subtracted has no effect on the
performance of the network.
The single bias unit is connected to every hidden or output unit that needs
a bias term. Hence the bias terms can be learned just like other weights.
Consider a multilayer perceptron with any of the usual sigmoid activation
functions. Choose any hidden unit or output unit. Let's say there are N
inputs to that unit, which define an Ndimensional space. The given unit
draws a hyperplane through that space, producing an "on" output on one side
and an "off" output on the other. (With sigmoid units the plane will not be
sharp  there will be some gray area of intermediate values near the
separating plane  but ignore this for now.)
The weights determine where this hyperplane lies in the input space. Without
a bias term, this separating hyperplane is constrained to pass through the
origin of the space defined by the inputs. For some problems that's OK, but
in many problems the hyperplane would be much more useful somewhere else. If
you have many units in a layer, they share the same input space and without
bias they would ALL be constrained to pass through the origin.
The "universal approximation" property of multilayer perceptrons with most
commonlyused hiddenlayer activation functions does not hold if you omit
the bias terms. But Hornik (1993) shows that a sufficient condition for the
universal approximation property without biases is that no derivative of the
activation function vanishes at the origin, which implies that with the
usual sigmoid activation functions, a fixed nonzero bias term can be used
instead of a trainable bias.
Typically, every hidden and output unit has its own bias term. The main
exception to this is when the activations of two or more units in one layer
always sum to a nonzero constant. For example, you might scale the inputs to
sum to one (see Should I standardize the input cases?), or you might use a
normalized RBF function in the hidden layer (see How do MLPs compare with
RBFs?). If there do exist units in one layer whose activations sum to a
nonzero constant, then any subsequent layer does not need bias terms if it
receives connections from the units that sum to a constant, since using bias
terms in the subsequent layer would create linear dependencies.
If you have a large number of hidden units, it may happen that one or more
hidden units "saturate" as a result of having large incoming weights,
producing a constant activation. If this happens, then the saturated hidden
units act like bias units, and the output bias terms are redundant. However,
you should not rely on this phenomenon to avoid using output biases, since
networks without output biases are usually illconditioned (see
ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/illcond/illcond.html) and harder to train than
networks that use output biases.
Regarding biaslike terms in RBF networks, see "How do MLPs compare with
RBFs?"
Reference:
Hornik, K. (1993), "Some new results on neural network approximation,"
Neural Networks, 6, 10691072.

Subject: Why use activation functions?
=======================================
Activation functions for the hidden units are needed to introduce
nonlinearity into the network. Without nonlinearity, hidden units would not
make nets more powerful than just plain perceptrons (which do not have any
hidden units, just input and output units). The reason is that a linear
function of linear functions is again a linear function. However, it is the
nonlinearity (i.e, the capability to represent nonlinear functions) that
makes multilayer networks so powerful. Almost any nonlinear function does
the job, except for polynomials. For backpropagation learning, the
activation function must be differentiable, and it helps if the function is
bounded; the sigmoidal functions such as logistic and tanh and the Gaussian
function are the most common choices. Functions such as tanh or arctan that
produce both positive and negative values tend to yield faster training than
functions that produce only positive values such as logistic, because of
better numerical conditioning (see
ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/illcond/illcond.html).
For hidden units, sigmoid activation functions are usually preferable to
threshold activation functions. Networks with threshold units are difficult
to train because the error function is stepwise constant, hence the gradient
either does not exist or is zero, making it impossible to use backprop or
more efficient gradientbased training methods. Even for training methods
that do not use gradientssuch as simulated annealing and genetic
algorithmssigmoid units are easier to train than threshold units. With
sigmoid units, a small change in the weights will usually produce a change
in the outputs, which makes it possible to tell whether that change in the
weights is good or bad. With threshold units, a small change in the weights
will often produce no change in the outputs.
For the output units, you should choose an activation function suited to the
distribution of the target values:
o For binary (0/1) targets, the logistic function is an excellent choice
(Jordan, 1995).
o For categorical targets using 1ofC coding, the softmax activation
function is the logical extension of the logistic function.
o For continuousvalued targets with a bounded range, the logistic and tanh
functions can be used, provided you either scale the outputs to the range
of the targets or scale the targets to the range of the output activation
function ("scaling" means multiplying by and adding appropriate
constants).
o If the target values are positive but have no known upper bound, you can
use an exponential output activation function, but beware of overflow.
o For continuousvalued targets with no known bounds, use the identity or
"linear" activation function (which amounts to no activation function)
unless you have a very good reason to do otherwise.
There are certain natural associations between output activation functions
and various noise distributions which have been studied by statisticians in
the context of generalized linear models. The output activation function is
the inverse of what statisticians call the "link function". See:
McCullagh, P. and Nelder, J.A. (1989) Generalized Linear Models, 2nd
ed., London: Chapman & Hall.
Jordan, M.I. (1995), "Why the logistic function? A tutorial discussion on
probabilities and neural networks", MIT Computational Cognitive Science
Report 9503, http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~jordan/papers/uai.ps.Z.
For more information on activation functions, see Donald Tveter's
Backpropagator's Review.

Subject: How to avoid overflow in the logistic function?
=========================================================
The formula for the logistic activation function is often written as:
netoutput = 1 / (1+exp(netinput));
But this formula can produce floatingpoint overflow in the exponential
function if you program it in this simple form. To avoid overflow, you can
do this:
if (netinput < 45) netoutput = 0;
else if (netinput > 45) netoutput = 1;
else netoutput = 1 / (1+exp(netinput));
The constant 45 will work for double precision on all machines that I know
of, but there may be some bizarre machines where it will require some
adjustment. Other activation functions can be handled similarly.

Subject: What is a softmax activation function?
================================================
If you want the outputs of a network to be interpretable as posterior
probabilities for a categorical target variable, it is highly desirable for
those outputs to lie between zero and one and to sum to one. The purpose of
the softmax activation function is to enforce these constraints on the
outputs. Let the net input to each output unit be q_i, i=1,...,c,
where c is the number of categories. Then the softmax output p_i is:
exp(q_i)
p_i = 
c
sum exp(q_j)
j=1
Unless you are using weight decay or Bayesian estimation or some such thing
that requires the weights to be treated on an equal basis, you can choose
any one of the output units and leave it completely unconnectedjust set
the net input to 0. Connecting all of the output units will just give you
redundant weights and will slow down training. To see this, add an arbitrary
constant z to each net input and you get:
exp(q_i+z) exp(q_i) exp(z) exp(q_i)
p_i =  =  = 
c c c
sum exp(q_j+z) sum exp(q_j) exp(z) sum exp(q_j)
j=1 j=1 j=1
so nothing changes. Hence you can always pick one of the output units, and
add an appropriate constant to each net input to produce any desired net
input for the selected output unit, which you can choose to be zero or
whatever is convenient. You can use the same trick to make sure that none of
the exponentials overflows.
Statisticians usually call softmax a "multiple logistic" function. It
reduces to the simple logistic function when there are only two categories.
Suppose you choose to set q_2 to 0. Then
exp(q_1) exp(q_1) 1
p_1 =  =  = 
c exp(q_1) + exp(0) 1 + exp(q_1)
sum exp(q_j)
j=1
and p_2, of course, is 1p_1.
The softmax function derives naturally from loglinear models and leads to
convenient interpretations of the weights in terms of odds ratios. You
could, however, use a variety of other nonnegative functions on the real
line in place of the exp function. Or you could constrain the net inputs to
the output units to be nonnegative, and just divide by the sumthat's
called the BradleyTerryLuce model.
The softmax function is also used in the hidden layer of normalized
radialbasisfunction networks; see "How do MLPs compare with RBFs?"
References:
Bridle, J.S. (1990a). Probabilistic Interpretation of Feedforward
Classification Network Outputs, with Relationships to Statistical Pattern
Recognition. In: F.Fogleman Soulie and J.Herault (eds.), Neurocomputing:
Algorithms, Architectures and Applications, Berlin: SpringerVerlag, pp.
227236.
Bridle, J.S. (1990b). Training Stochastic Model Recognition Algorithms as
Networks can lead to Maximum Mutual Information Estimation of Parameters.
In: D.S.Touretzky (ed.), Advances in Neural Information Processing
Systems 2, San Mateo: Morgan Kaufmann, pp. 211217.
McCullagh, P. and Nelder, J.A. (1989) Generalized Linear Models, 2nd
ed., London: Chapman & Hall. See Chapter 5.

Subject: What is the curse of dimensionality?
==============================================
Answer by Janne Sinkkonen.
Curse of dimensionality (Bellman 1961) refers to the exponential growth of
hypervolume as a function of dimensionality. In the field of NNs, curse of
dimensionality expresses itself in two related problems:
1. Many NNs can be thought of mappings from an input space to an output
space. Thus, loosely speaking, an NN needs to somehow "monitor", cover or
represent every part of its input space in order to know how that part of
the space should be mapped. Covering the input space takes resources,
and, in the most general case, the amount of resources needed is
proportional to the hypervolume of the input space. The exact formulation
of "resources" and "part of the input space" depends on the type of the
network and should probably be based on the concepts of information
theory and differential geometry.
As an example, think of a vector quantization (VQ). In VQ, a set of units
competitively learns to represents an input space (this is like Kohonen's
SelfOrganizing Map but without topography for the units). Imagine a VQ
trying to share its units (resources) more or less equally over
hyperspherical input space. One could argue that the average distance
from a random point of the space to the nearest network unit measures the
goodness of the representation: the shorter the distance, the better is
the represention of the data in the sphere. It is intuitively clear (and
can be experimentally verified) that the total number of units required
to keep the average distance constant increases exponentially with the
dimensionality of the sphere (if the radius of the sphere is fixed).
The curse of dimensionality causes networks with lots of irrelevant
inputs to be behave relatively badly: the dimension of the input space is
high, and the network uses almost all its resources to represent
irrelevant portions of the space.
Unsupervised learning algorithms are typically prone to this problem  as
well as conventional RBFs. A partial remedy is to preprocess the input in
the right way, for example by scaling the components according to their
"importance".
2. Even if we have a network algorithm which is able to focus on important
portions of the input space, the higher the dimensionality of the input
space, the more data may be needed to find out what is important and what
is not.
A priori information can help with the curse of dimensionality. Careful
feature selection and scaling of the inputs fundamentally affects the
severity of the problem, as well as the selection of the neural network
model. For classification purposes, only the borders of the classes are
important to represent accurately.
References:
Bellman, R. (1961), Adaptive Control Processes: A Guided Tour, Princeton
University Press.
Bishop, C.M. (1995), Neural Networks for Pattern Recognition, Oxford:
Oxford University Press, section 1.4.
Scott, D.W. (1992), Multivariate Density Estimation, NY: Wiley.

Subject: How do MLPs compare with RBFs?
========================================
Multilayer perceptrons (MLPs) and radial basis function (RBF) networks are
the two most commonlyused types of feedforward network. They have much more
in common than most of the NN literature would suggest. The only fundamental
difference is the way in which hidden units combine values coming from
preceding layers in the networkMLPs use inner products, while RBFs use
Euclidean distance. There are also differences in the customary methods for
training MLPs and RBF networks, although most methods for training MLPs can
also be applied to RBF networks. Furthermore, there are crucial differences
between two broad types of RBF networkordinary RBF networks and normalized
RBF networksthat are ignored in most of the NN literature. These
differences have important consequences for the generalization ability of
the networks, especially when the number of inputs is large.
Notation:
a_j is the altitude or height of the jth hidden unit
b_j is the bias of the jth hidden unit
f is the fanin of the jth hidden unit
h_j is the activation of the jth hidden unit
s is a common width shared by all hidden units in the layer
s_j is the width of the jth hidden unit
w_ij is the weight connecting the ith input to
the jth hidden unit
w_i is the common weight for the ith input shared by
all hidden units in the layer
x_i is the ith input
The inputs to each hidden or output unit must be combined with the weights
to yield a single value called the "net input" to which the activation
function is applied. There does not seem to be a standard term for the
function that combines the inputs and weights; I will use the term
"combination function". Thus, each hidden or output unit in a feedforward
network first computes a combination function to produce the net input, and
then applies an activation function to the net input yielding the activation
of the unit.
A multilayer perceptron has one or more hidden layers for which the
combination function is the inner product of the inputs and weights, plus a
bias. The activation function is usually a logistic or tanh function.
Hence the formula for the activation is typically:
h_j = tanh( b_j + sum[w_ij*x_i] )
The MLP architecture is the most popular one in practical applications. Each
layer uses a linear combination function. The inputs are fully connected to
the first hidden layer, each hidden layer is fully connected to the next,
and the last hidden layer is fully connected to the outputs. You can also
have "skiplayer" connections; direct connections from inputs to outputs are
especially useful.
Consider the multidimensional space of inputs to a given hidden unit. Since
an MLP uses linear combination functions, the set of all points in the space
having a given value of the activation function is a hyperplane. The
hyperplanes corresponding to different activation levels are parallel to
each other (the hyperplanes for different units are not parallel in
general). These parallel hyperplanes are the isoactivation contours of the
hidden unit.
Radial basis function (RBF) networks usually have only one hidden layer for
which the combination function is based on the Euclidean distance between
the input vector and the weight vector. RBF networks do not have anything
that's exactly the same as the bias term in an MLP. But some types of RBFs
have a "width" associated with each hidden unit or with the the entire
hidden layer; instead of adding it in the combination function like a bias,
you divide the Euclidean distance by the width.
To see the similarity between RBF networks and MLPs, it is convenient to
treat the combination function as the square of distance/width. Then the
familiar exp or softmax activation functions produce members of the
popular class of Gaussian RBF networks. It can also be useful to add another
term to the combination function that determines what I will call the
"altitude" of the unit. The altitude is the maximum height of the Gaussian
curve above the horizontal axis. I have not seen altitudes used in the NN
literature; if you know of a reference, please tell me (saswss@unx.sas.com).
The output activation function in RBF networks is usually the identity. The
identity output activation function is a computational convenience in
training (see Hybrid training and the curse of dimensionality) but it is
possible and often desirable to use other output activation functions just
as you would in an MLP.
There are many types of radial basis functions. Gaussian RBFs seem to be the
most popular by far in the NN literature. In the statistical literature,
thin plate splines are also used (Green and Silverman 1994). This FAQ will
concentrate on Gaussian RBFs.
There are two distinct types of Gaussian RBF architectures. The first type
uses the exp activation function, so the activation of the unit is a
Gaussian "bump" as a function of the inputs. There seems to be no specific
term for this type of Gaussian RBF network; I will use the term "ordinary
RBF", or ORBF, network.
The second type of Gaussian RBF architecture uses the softmax activation
function, so the activations of all the hidden units are normalized to sum
to one. This type of network is often called a "normalized RBF", or NRBF,
network. In a NRBF network, the output units should not have a bias, since
the constant bias term would be linearly dependent on the constant sum of
the hidden units.
While the distinction between these two types of Gaussian RBF architectures
is sometimes mentioned in the NN literature, its importance has rarely been
appreciated except by Tao (1993) and Werntges (1993). Shorten and
MurraySmith (1996) also compare ordinary and normalized Gaussian RBF
networks.
There are several subtypes of both ORBF and NRBF architectures. Descriptions
and formulas are as follows:
ORBFUN
Ordinary radial basis function (RBF) network with unequal widths
h_j = exp(  s_j^2 * sum[(w_ijx_i)^2] )
ORBFEQ
Ordinary radial basis function (RBF) network with equal widths
h_j = exp(  s^2 * sum[(w_ijx_i)^2] )
NRBFUN
Normalized RBF network with unequal widths and heights
h_j = softmax(f*log(a_j)  s_j^2 *
sum[(w_ijx_i)^2] )
NRBFEV
Normalized RBF network with equal volumes
h_j = softmax( f*log(s_j)  s_j^2 *
sum[(w_ijx_i)^2] )
NRBFEH
Normalized RBF network with equal heights (and unequal widths)
h_j = softmax(  s_j^2 * sum[(w_ijx_i)^2] )
NRBFEW
Normalized RBF network with equal widths (and unequal heights)
h_j = softmax( f*log(a_j)  s^2 *
sum[(w_ijx_i)^2] )
NRBFEQ
Normalized RBF network with equal widths and heights
h_j = softmax(  s^2 * sum[(w_ijx_i)^2] )
To illustrate various architectures, an example with two inputs and one
output will be used so that the results can be shown graphically. The
function being learned resembles a landscape with a Gaussian hill and a
logistic plateau as shown in ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/hillplat.gif.
There are 441 training cases on a regular 21by21 grid. The table below
shows the root mean square error (RMSE) for a test data set. The test set
has 1681 cases on a regular 41by41 grid over the same domain as the
training set. If you are reading the HTML version of this document via a web
browser, click on any number in the table to see a surface plot of the
corresponding network output (each plot is a gif file, approximately 9K).
The MLP networks in the table have one hidden layer with a tanh activation
function. All of the networks use an identity activation function for the
outputs.
Hill and Plateau Data: RMSE for the Test Set
HUs MLP ORBFEQ ORBFUN NRBFEQ NRBFEW NRBFEV NRBFEH NRBFUN
2 0.218 0.247 0.247 0.230 0.230 0.230 0.230 0.230
3 0.192 0.244 0.143 0.218 0.218 0.036 0.012 0.001
4 0.174 0.216 0.096 0.193 0.193 0.036 0.007
5 0.160 0.188 0.083 0.086 0.051 0.003
6 0.123 0.142 0.058 0.053 0.030
7 0.107 0.123 0.051 0.025 0.019
8 0.093 0.105 0.043 0.020 0.008
9 0.084 0.085 0.038 0.017
10 0.077 0.082 0.033 0.016
12 0.059 0.074 0.024 0.005
15 0.042 0.060 0.019
20 0.023 0.046 0.010
30 0.019 0.024
40 0.016 0.022
50 0.010 0.014
The ORBF architectures use radial combination functions and the exp
activation function. Only two of the radial combination functions are useful
with ORBF architectures. For radial combination functions including an
altitude, the altitude would be redundant with the hiddentooutput weights.
Radial combination functions are based on the Euclidean distance between the
vector of inputs to the unit and the vector of corresponding weights. Thus,
the isoactivation contours for ORBF networks are concentric hyperspheres. A
variety of activation functions can be used with the radial combination
function, but the exp activation function, yielding a Gaussian surface, is
the most useful. Radial networks typically have only one hidden layer, but
it can be useful to include a linear layer for dimensionality reduction or
oblique rotation before the RBF layer.
The output of an ORBF network consists of a number of superimposed bumps,
hence the output is quite bumpy unless many hidden units are used. Thus an
ORBF network with only a few hidden units is incapable of fitting a wide
variety of simple, smooth functions, and should rarely be used.
The NRBF architectures also use radial combination functions but the
activation function is softmax, which forces the sum of the activations for
the hidden layer to equal one. Thus, each output unit computes a weighted
average of the hiddentooutput weights, and the output values must lie
within the range of the hiddentooutput weights. Therefore, if the
hiddentooutput weights are within a reasonable range (such as the range of
the target values), you can be sure that the outputs will be within that
same range for all possible inputs, even when the net is extrapolating. No
comparably useful bound exists for the output of an ORBF network.
If you extrapolate far enough in a Gaussian ORBF network with an identity
output activation function, the activation of every hidden unit will
approach zero, hence the extrapolated output of the network will equal the
output bias. If you extrapolate far enough in an NRBF network, one hidden
unit will come to dominate the output. Hence if you want the network to
extrapolate different values in a different directions, an NRBF should be
used instead of an ORBF.
Radial combination functions incorporating altitudes are useful with NRBF
architectures. The NRBF architectures combine some of the virtues of both
the RBF and MLP architectures, as explained below. However, the
isoactivation contours are considerably more complicated than for ORBF
architectures.
Consider the case of an NRBF network with only two hidden units. If the
hidden units have equal widths, the isoactivation contours are parallel
hyperplanes; in fact, this network is equivalent to an MLP with one logistic
hidden unit. If the hidden units have unequal widths, the isoactivation
contours are concentric hyperspheres; such a network is almost equivalent to
an ORBF network with one Gaussian hidden unit.
If there are more than two hidden units in an NRBF network, the
isoactivation contours have no such simple characterization. If the RBF
widths are very small, the isoactivation contours are approximately
piecewise linear for RBF units with equal widths, and approximately
piecewise spherical for RBF units with unequal widths. The larger the
widths, the smoother the isoactivation contours where the pieces join. As
Shorten and MurraySmith (1996) point out, the activation is not necessarily
a monotone function of distance from the center when unequal widths are
used.
The NRBFEQ architecture is a smoothed variant of the learning vector
quantization (Kohonen 1988, Ripley 1996) and counterpropagation
(HechtNielsen 1990), architectures. In LVQ and counterprop, the hidden
units are often called "codebook vectors". LVQ amounts to nearestneighbor
classification on the codebook vectors, while counterprop is
nearestneighbor regression on the codebook vectors. The NRBFEQ architecture
uses not just the single nearest neighbor, but a weighted average of near
neighbors. As the width of the NRBFEQ functions approaches zero, the weights
approach one for the nearest neighbor and zero for all other codebook
vectors. LVQ and counterprop use ad hoc algorithms of uncertain reliability,
but standard numerical optimization algorithms (not to mention backprop) can
be applied with the NRBFEQ architecture.
In a NRBFEQ architecture, if each observation is taken as an RBF center, and
if the weights are taken to be the target values, the outputs are simply
weighted averages of the target values, and the network is identical to the
wellknown NadarayaWatson kernel regression estimator, which has been
reinvented at least twice in the neural net literature (see "What is
GRNN?"). A similar NRBFEQ network used for classification is equivalent to
kernel discriminant analysis (see "What is PNN?").
Kernels with variable widths are also used for regression in the statistical
literature. Such kernel estimators correspond to the the NRBFEV
architecture, in which the kernel functions have equal volumes but different
altitudes. In the neural net literature, variablewidth kernels appear
always to be of the NRBFEH variety, with equal altitudes but unequal
volumes. The analogy with kernel regression would make the NRBFEV
architecture the obvious choice, but which of the two architectures works
better in practice is an open question.
Hybrid training and the curse of dimensionality
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
A comparison of the various architectures must separate training issues from
architectural issues to avoid common sources of confusion. RBF networks are
often trained by "hybrid" methods, in which the hidden weights (centers)
are first obtained by unsupervised learning, after which the output weights
are obtained by supervised learning. Unsupervised methods for choosing the
centers include:
1. Distribute the centers in a regular grid over the input space.
2. Choose a random subset of the training cases to serve as centers.
3. Cluster the training cases based on the input variables, and use the mean
of each cluster as a center.
Various heuristic methods are also available for choosing the RBF widths
(e.g., Moody and Darken 1989; Sarle 1994b). Once the centers and widths are
fixed, the output weights can be learned very efficiently, since the
computation reduces to a linear or generalized linear model. The hybrid
training approach can thus be much faster than the nonlinear optimization
that would be required for supervised training of all of the weights in the
network.
Hybrid training is not often applied to MLPs because no effective methods
are known for unsupervised training of the hidden units (except when there
is only one input).
Hybrid training will usually require more hidden units than supervised
training. Since supervised training optimizes the locations of the centers,
while hybrid training does not, supervised training will provide a better
approximation to the function to be learned for a given number of hidden
units. Thus, the better fit provided by supervised training will often let
you use fewer hidden units for a given accuracy of approximation than you
would need with hybrid training. And if the hiddentooutput weights are
learned by linear leastsquares, the fact that hybrid training requires more
hidden units implies that hybrid training will also require more training
cases for the same accuracy of generalization (Tarassenko and Roberts 1994).
The number of hidden units required by hybrid methods becomes an
increasingly serious problem as the number of inputs increases. In fact, the
required number of hidden units tends to increase exponentially with the
number of inputs. This drawback of hybrid methods is discussed by Minsky and
Papert (1969). For example, with method (1) for RBF networks, you would need
at least five elements in the grid along each dimension to detect a moderate
degree of nonlinearity; so if you have Nx inputs, you would need at least
5^Nx hidden units. For methods (2) and (3), the number of hidden units
increases exponentially with the effective dimensionality of the input
distribution. If the inputs are linearly related, the effective
dimensionality is the number of nonnegligible (a deliberately vague term)
eigenvalues of the covariance matrix, so the inputs must be highly
correlated if the effective dimensionality is to be much less than the
number of inputs.
The exponential increase in the number of hidden units required for hybrid
learning is one aspect of the curse of dimensionality. The number of
training cases required also increases exponentially in general. No neural
network architecturein fact no method of learning or statistical
estimationcan escape the curse of dimensionality in general, hence there
is no practical method of learning general functions in more than a few
dimensions.
Fortunately, in many practical applications of neural networks with a large
number of inputs, most of those inputs are additive, redundant, or
irrelevant, and some architectures can take advantage of these properties to
yield useful results. But escape from the curse of dimensionality requires
fully supervised training as well as special types of data. Supervised
training for RBF networks can be done by "backprop" (see "What is
backprop?") or other optimization methods (see "What are conjugate
gradients, LevenbergMarquardt, etc.?"), or by subset regression "What are
OLS and subset/stepwise regression?").
Additive inputs
+++++++++++++++
An additive model is one in which the output is a sum of linear or nonlinear
transformations of the inputs. If an additive model is appropriate, the
number of weights increases linearly with the number of inputs, so high
dimensionality is not a curse. Various methods of training additive models
are available in the statistical literature (e.g. Hastie and Tibshirani
1990). You can also create a feedforward neural network, called a
"generalized additive network" (GAN), to fit additive models (Sarle 1994a).
Additive models have been proposed in the neural net literature under the
name "topologically distributed encoding" (Geiger 1990).
Projection pursuit regression (PPR) provides both universal approximation
and the ability to avoid the curse of dimensionality for certain common
types of target functions (Friedman and Stuetzle 1981). Like MLPs, PPR
computes the output as a sum of nonlinear transformations of linear
combinations of the inputs. Each term in the sum is analogous to a hidden
unit in an MLP. But unlike MLPs, PPR allows general, smooth nonlinear
transformations rather than a specific nonlinear activation function, and
allows a different transformation for each term. The nonlinear
transformations in PPR are usually estimated by nonparametric regression,
but you can set up a projection pursuit network (PPN), in which each
nonlinear transformation is performed by a subnetwork. If a PPN provides an
adequate fit with few terms, then the curse of dimensionality can be
avoided, and the results may even be interpretable.
If the target function can be accurately approximated by projection pursuit,
then it can also be accurately approximated by an MLP with a single hidden
layer. The disadvantage of the MLP is that there is little hope of
interpretability. An MLP with two or more hidden layers can provide a
parsimonious fit to a wider variety of target functions than can projection
pursuit, but no simple characterization of these functions is known.
Redundant inputs
++++++++++++++++
With proper training, all of the RBF architectures listed above, as well as
MLPs, can process redundant inputs effectively. When there are redundant
inputs, the training cases lie close to some (possibly nonlinear) subspace.
If the same degree of redundancy applies to the test cases, the network need
produce accurate outputs only near the subspace occupied by the data. Adding
redundant inputs has little effect on the effective dimensionality of the
data; hence the curse of dimensionality does not apply, and even hybrid
methods (2) and (3) can be used. However, if the test cases do not follow
the same pattern of redundancy as the training cases, generalization will
require extrapolation and will rarely work well.
Irrelevant inputs
+++++++++++++++++
MLP architectures are good at ignoring irrelevant inputs. MLPs can also
select linear subspaces of reduced dimensionality. Since the first hidden
layer forms linear combinations of the inputs, it confines the networks
attention to the linear subspace spanned by the weight vectors. Hence,
adding irrelevant inputs to the training data does not increase the number
of hidden units required, although it increases the amount of training data
required.
ORBF architectures are not good at ignoring irrelevant inputs. The number of
hidden units required grows exponentially with the number of inputs,
regardless of how many inputs are relevant. This exponential growth is
related to the fact that ORBFs have local receptive fields, meaning that
changing the hiddentooutput weights of a given unit will affect the output
of the network only in a neighborhood of the center of the hidden unit,
where the size of the neighborhood is determined by the width of the hidden
unit. (Of course, if the width of the unit is learned, the receptive field
could grow to cover the entire training set.)
Local receptive fields are often an advantage compared to the distributed
architecture of MLPs, since local units can adapt to local patterns in the
data without having unwanted side effects in other regions. In a distributed
architecture such as an MLP, adapting the network to fit a local pattern in
the data can cause spurious side effects in other parts of the input space.
However, ORBF architectures often must be used with relatively small
neighborhoods, so that several hidden units are required to cover the range
of an input. When there are many nonredundant inputs, the hidden units must
cover the entire input space, and the number of units required is
essentially the same as in the hybrid case (1) where the centers are in a
regular grid; hence the exponential growth in the number of hidden units
with the number of inputs, regardless of whether the inputs are relevant.
You can enable an ORBF architecture to ignore irrelevant inputs by using an
extra, linear hidden layer before the radial hidden layer. This type of
network is sometimes called an "elliptical basis function" network. If the
number of units in the linear hidden layer equals the number of inputs, the
linear hidden layer performs an oblique rotation of the input space that can
suppress irrelevant directions and differentally weight relevant directions
according to their importance. If you think that the presence of irrelevant
inputs is highly likely, you can force a reduction of dimensionality by
using fewer units in the linear hidden layer than the number of inputs.
Note that the linear and radial hidden layers must be connected in series,
not in parallel, to ignore irrelevant inputs. In some applications it is
useful to have linear and radial hidden layers connected in parallel, but in
such cases the radial hidden layer will be sensitive to all inputs.
For even greater flexibility (at the cost of more weights to be learned),
you can have a separate linear hidden layer for each RBF unit, allowing a
different oblique rotation for each RBF unit.
NRBF architectures with equal widths (NRBFEW and NRBFEQ) combine the
advantage of local receptive fields with the ability to ignore irrelevant
inputs. The receptive field of one hidden unit extends from the center in
all directions until it encounters the receptive field of another hidden
unit. It is convenient to think of a "boundary" between the two receptive
fields, defined as the hyperplane where the two units have equal
activations, even though the effect of each unit will extend somewhat beyond
the boundary. The location of the boundary depends on the heights of the
hidden units. If the two units have equal heights, the boundary lies midway
between the two centers. If the units have unequal heights, the boundary is
farther from the higher unit.
If a hidden unit is surrounded by other hidden units, its receptive field is
indeed local, curtailed by the field boundaries with other units. But if a
hidden unit is not completely surrounded, its receptive field can extend
infinitely in certain directions. If there are irrelevant inputs, or more
generally, irrelevant directions that are linear combinations of the inputs,
the centers need only be distributed in a subspace orthogonal to the
irrelevant directions. In this case, the hidden units can have local
receptive fields in relevant directions but infinite receptive fields in
irrelevant directions.
For NRBF architectures allowing unequal widths (NRBFUN, NRBFEV, and NRBFEH),
the boundaries between receptive fields are generally hyperspheres rather
than hyperplanes. In order to ignore irrelevant inputs, such networks must
be trained to have equal widths. Hence, if you think there is a strong
possibility that some of the inputs are irrelevant, it is usually better to
use an architecture with equal widths.
References:
There are few good references on RBF networks. Bishop (1995) gives one of
the better surveys, but also see Tao (1993) and Werntges (1993) for the
importance of normalization. Orr (1996) provides a useful introduction.
Bishop, C.M. (1995), Neural Networks for Pattern Recognition, Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Friedman, J.H. and Stuetzle, W. (1981), "Projection pursuit regression,"
J. of the American Statistical Association, 76, 817823.
Geiger, H. (1990), "Storing and Processing Information in Connectionist
Systems," in Eckmiller, R., ed., Advanced Neural Computers, 271277,
Amsterdam: NorthHolland.
Green, P.J. and Silverman, B.W. (1994), Nonparametric Regression and
Generalized Linear Models: A roughness penalty approach,, London:
Chapman & Hall.
Hastie, T.J. and Tibshirani, R.J. (1990) Generalized Additive Models,
London: Chapman & Hall.
HechtNielsen, R. (1990), Neurocomputing, Reading, MA: AddisonWesley.
Kohonen, T (1988), "Learning Vector Quantization," Neural Networks, 1
(suppl 1), 303.
Minsky, M.L. and Papert, S.A. (1969), Perceptrons, Cambridge, MA: MIT
Press.
Moody, J. and Darken, C.J. (1989), "Fast learning in networks of
locallytuned processing units," Neural Computation, 1, 281294.
Orr, M.J.L. (1996), "Introduction to radial basis function networks,"
http://www.anc.ed.ac.uk/~mjo/papers/intro.ps or
http://www.anc.ed.ac.uk/~mjo/papers/intro.ps.gz
Ripley, B.D. (1996), Pattern Recognition and Neural Networks,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sarle, W.S. (1994a), "Neural Networks and Statistical Models," in SAS
Institute Inc., Proceedings of the Nineteenth Annual SAS Users Group
International Conference, Cary, NC: SAS Institute Inc., pp 15381550,
ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/neural1.ps.
Sarle, W.S. (1994b), "Neural Network Implementation in SAS Software," in
SAS Institute Inc., Proceedings of the Nineteenth Annual SAS Users
Group International Conference, Cary, NC: SAS Institute Inc., pp
15511573, ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/neural2.ps.
Shorten, R., and MurraySmith, R. (1996), "Side effects of normalising
radial basis function networks" International Journal of Neural Systems,
7, 167179.
Tao, K.M. (1993), "A closer look at the radial basis function (RBF)
networks," Conference Record of The TwentySeventh Asilomar
Conference on Signals, Systems and Computers (Singh, A., ed.), vol 1,
401405, Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Comput. Soc. Press.
Tarassenko, L. and Roberts, S. (1994), "Supervised and unsupervised
learning in radial basis function classifiers," IEE Proceedings Vis.
Image Signal Processing, 141, 210216.
Werntges, H.W. (1993), "Partitions of unity improve neural function
approximation," Proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on
Neural Networks, San Francisco, CA, vol 2, 914918.

Subject: What are OLS and subset/stepwise regression?
======================================================
If you are statistician, "OLS" means "ordinary least squares" (as opposed to
weighted or generalized least squares), which is what the NN literature
often calls "LMS" (least mean squares).
If you are a neural networker, "OLS" means "orthogonal least squares", which
is an algorithm for forward stepwise regression proposed by Chen et al.
(1991) for training RBF networks.
OLS is a variety of supervised training. But whereas backprop and other
commonlyused supervised methods are forms of continuous optimization, OLS
is a form of combinatorial optimization. Rather than treating the RBF
centers as continuous values to be adjusted to reduce the training error,
OLS starts with a large set of candidate centers and selects a subset that
usually provides good training error. For small training sets, the
candidates can include all of the training cases. For large training sets,
it is more efficient to use a random subset of the training cases or to do a
cluster analysis and use the cluster means as candidates.
Each center corresponds to a predictor variable in a linear regression
model. The values of these predictor variables are computed from the RBF
applied to each center. There are numerous methods for selecting a subset of
predictor variables in regression (Myers 1986; Miller 1990). The ones most
often used are:
o Forward selection begins with no centers in the network. At each step the
center is added that most decreases the objective function.
o Backward elimination begins with all candidate centers in the network. At
each step the center is removed that least increases the objective
function.
o Stepwise selection begins like forward selection with no centers in the
network. At each step, a center is added or removed. If there are any
centers in the network, the one that contributes least to reducing the
objective function is subjected to a statistical test (usually based on
the F statistic) to see if it is worth retaining in the network; if the
center fails the test, it is removed. If no centers are removed, then the
centers that are not currently in the network are examined; the one that
would contribute most to reducing the objective function is subjected to
a statistical test to see if it is worth adding to the network; if the
center passes the test, it is added. When all centers in the network pass
the test for staying in the network, and all other centers fail the test
for being added to the network, the stepwise method terminates.
o Leaps and bounds (Furnival and Wilson 1974) is an algorithm for
determining the subset of centers that minimizes the objective function;
this optimal subset can be found without examining all possible subsets,
but the algorithm is practical only up to 30 to 50 candidate centers.
OLS is a particular algorithm for forward selection using modified
GramSchmidt (MGS) orthogonalization. While MGS is not a bad algorithm, it
is not the best algorithm for linear leastsquares (Lawson and Hanson 1974).
For illconditioned data (see
ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/illcond/illcond.html), Householder and Givens
methods are generally preferred, while for large, wellconditioned data
sets, methods based on the normal equations require about onethird as many
floating point operations and much less disk I/O than OLS. Normal equation
methods based on sweeping (Goodnight 1979) or Gaussian elimination (Furnival
and Wilson 1974) are especially simple to program.
While the theory of linear models is the most thoroughly developed area of
statistical inference, subset selection invalidates most of the standard
theory (Miller 1990; Roecker 1991; Derksen and Keselman 1992; Freedman, Pee,
and Midthune 1992).
Subset selection methods usually do not generalize as well as regularization
methods in linear models (Frank and Friedman 1993). Orr (1995) has proposed
combining regularization with subset selection for RBF training (see also
Orr 1996).
References:
Chen, S., Cowan, C.F.N., and Grant, P.M. (1991), "Orthogonal least
squares learning for radial basis function networks," IEEE Transactions
on Neural Networks, 2, 302309.
Derksen, S. and Keselman, H. J. (1992) "Backward, forward and stepwise
automated subset selection algorithms: Frequency of obtaining authentic
and noise variables," British Journal of Mathematical and Statistical
Psychology, 45, 265282,
Frank, I.E. and Friedman, J.H. (1993) "A statistical view of some
chemometrics regression tools," Technometrics, 35, 109148.
Freedman, L.S. , Pee, D. and Midthune, D.N. (1992) "The problem of
underestimating the residual error variance in forward stepwise
regression", The Statistician, 41, 405412.
Furnival, G.M. and Wilson, R.W. (1974), "Regression by Leaps and Bounds,"
Technometrics, 16, 499511.
Goodnight, J.H. (1979), "A Tutorial on the SWEEP Operator," The American
Statistician, 33, 149158.
Lawson, C. L. and Hanson, R. J. (1974), Solving Least Squares Problems,
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: PrenticeHall, Inc. (2nd edition: 1995,
Philadelphia: SIAM)
Miller, A.J. (1990), Subset Selection in Regression, Chapman & Hall.
Myers, R.H. (1986), Classical and Modern Regression with Applications,
Boston: Duxbury Press.
Orr, M.J.L. (1995), "Regularisation in the selection of radial basis
function centres," Neural Computation, 7, 606623.
Orr, M.J.L. (1996), "Introduction to radial basis function networks,"
http://www.cns.ed.ac.uk/people/mark/intro.ps or
http://www.cns.ed.ac.uk/people/mark/intro/intro.html .
Roecker, E.B. (1991) "Prediction error and its estimation for
subsetselected models," Technometrics, 33, 459468.

Subject: Should I normalize/standardize/rescale the
===================================================
data?
======
First, some definitions. "Rescaling" a vector means to add or subtract a
constant and then multiply or divide by a constant, as you would do to
change the units of measurement of the data, for example, to convert a
temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit.
"Normalizing" a vector most often means dividing by a norm of the vector,
for example, to make the Euclidean length of the vector equal to one. In the
NN literature, "normalizing" also often refers to rescaling by the minimum
and range of the vector, to make all the elements lie between 0 and 1.
"Standardizing" a vector most often means subtracting a measure of location
and dividing by a measure of scale. For example, if the vector contains
random values with a Gaussian distribution, you might subtract the mean and
divide by the standard deviation, thereby obtaining a "standard normal"
random variable with mean 0 and standard deviation 1.
However, all of the above terms are used more or less interchangeably
depending on the customs within various fields. Since the FAQ maintainer is
a statistician, he is going to use the term "standardize" because that is
what he is accustomed to.
Now the question is, should you do any of these things to your data? The
answer is, it depends.
There is a common misconception that the inputs to a multilayer perceptron
must be in the interval [0,1]. There is in fact no such requirement,
although there often are benefits to standardizing the inputs as discussed
below. But it is better to have the input values centered around zero, so
scaling the inputs to the interval [0,1] is usually a bad choice.
If your output activation function has a range of [0,1], then obviously you
must ensure that the target values lie within that range. But it is
generally better to choose an output activation function suited to the
distribution of the targets than to force your data to conform to the output
activation function. See "Why use activation functions?"
When using an output activation with a range of [0,1], some people prefer to
rescale the targets to a range of [.1,.9]. I suspect that the popularity of
this gimmick is due to the slowness of standard backprop. But using a target
range of [.1,.9] for a classification task gives you incorrect posterior
probability estimates. This gimmick is unnecessary if you use an efficient
training algorithm (see "What are conjugate gradients, LevenbergMarquardt,
etc.?"), and it is also unnecessary to avoid overflow (see "How to avoid
overflow in the logistic function?").
Now for some of the gory details: note that the training data form a matrix.
Let's set up this matrix so that each case forms a row, and the inputs and
target variables form columns. You could conceivably standardize the rows or
the columns or both or various other things, and these different ways of
choosing vectors to standardize will have quite different effects on
training.
Standardizing either input or target variables tends to make the training
process better behaved by improving the numerical condition (see
ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/illcond/illcond.html) of the optimization
problem and ensuring that various default values involved in initialization
and termination are appropriate. Standardizing targets can also affect the
objective function.
Standardization of cases should be approached with caution because it
discards information. If that information is irrelevant, then standardizing
cases can be quite helpful. If that information is important, then
standardizing cases can be disastrous.
Should I standardize the input variables (column vectors)?
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
That depends primarily on how the network combines input variables to
compute the net input to the next (hidden or output) layer. If the input
variables are combined via a distance function (such as Euclidean distance)
in an RBF network, standardizing inputs can be crucial. The contribution of
an input will depend heavily on its variability relative to other inputs. If
one input has a range of 0 to 1, while another input has a range of 0 to
1,000,000, then the contribution of the first input to the distance will be
swamped by the second input. So it is essential to rescale the inputs so
that their variability reflects their importance, or at least is not in
inverse relation to their importance. For lack of better prior information,
it is common to standardize each input to the same range or the same
standard deviation. If you know that some inputs are more important than
others, it may help to scale the inputs such that the more important ones
have larger variances and/or ranges.
If the input variables are combined linearly, as in an MLP, then it is
rarely strictly necessary to standardize the inputs, at least in theory. The
reason is that any rescaling of an input vector can be effectively undone by
changing the corresponding weights and biases, leaving you with the exact
same outputs as you had before. However, there are a variety of practical
reasons why standardizing the inputs can make training faster and reduce the
chances of getting stuck in local optima. Also, weight decay and Bayesian
estimation can be done more conveniently with standardized inputs.
The main emphasis in the NN literature on initial values has been on the
avoidance of saturation, hence the desire to use small random values. How
small these random values should be depends on the scale of the inputs as
well as the number of inputs and their correlations. Standardizing inputs
removes the problem of scale dependence of the initial weights.
But standardizing input variables can have far more important effects on
initialization of the weights than simply avoiding saturation. Assume we
have an MLP with one hidden layer applied to a classification problem and
are therefore interested in the hyperplanes defined by each hidden unit.
Each hyperplane is the locus of points where the netinput to the hidden
unit is zero and is thus the classification boundary generated by that
hidden unit considered in isolation. The connection weights from the inputs
to a hidden unit determine the orientation of the hyperplane. The bias
determines the distance of the hyperplane from the origin. If the bias terms
are all small random numbers, then all the hyperplanes will pass close to
the origin. Hence, if the data are not centered at the origin, the
hyperplane may fail to pass through the data cloud. If all the inputs have a
small coefficient of variation, it is quite possible that all the initial
hyperplanes will miss the data entirely. With such a poor initialization,
local minima are very likely to occur. It is therefore important to center
the inputs to get good random initializations. In particular, scaling the
inputs to [1,1] will work better than [0,1], although any scaling that sets
to zero the mean or median or other measure of central tendency is likely to
be as good, and robust estimators of location and scale (Iglewicz, 1983)
will be even better for input variables with extreme outliers.
For example, consider an MLP with two inputs (X and Y) and 100 hidden units.
The graph at lines10to10.gif shows the initial hyperplanes (which are
lines, of course, in two dimensions) using initial weights and biases drawn
from a normal distribution with a mean of zero and a standard deviation of
one. The inputs X and Y are both shown over the interval [10,10]. As you
can see, most of the hyperplanes pass near the origin, and relatively few
hyperplanes go near the corners. Furthermore, most of the hyperplanes that
go near any given corner are at roughly the same angle. That is, the
hyperplanes that pass near the upper right corner go predominantly in the
direction from lower left to upper right. Hardly any hyperplanes near this
corner go from upper left to lower right. If the network needs to learn such
a hyperplane, it may take many random initializations before training finds
a local optimum with such a hyperplane.
Now suppose the input data are distributed over a range of [2,2] or [1,1].
Graphs showing these regions can be seen at lines2to2.gif and
lines1to1.gif. The initial hyperplanes cover these regions rather
thoroughly, and few initial hyperplanes miss these regions entirely. It will
be easy to learn a hyperplane passing through any part of these regions at
any angle.
But if the input data are distributed over a range of [0,1] as shown at
lines0to1.gif, the initial hyperplanes are concentrated in the lower left
corner, with fewer passing near the upper right corner. Furthermore, many
initial hyperplanes miss this region entirely, and since these hyperplanes
will be close to saturation over most of the input space, learning will be
slow. For an example using the 5bit parity problem, see "Why not code
binary inputs as 0 and 1?"
If the input data are distributed over a range of [1,2] as shown at
lines1to2.gif, the situation is even worse. If the input data are
distributed over a range of [9,10] as shown at lines9to10.gif, very few of
the initial hyperplanes pass through the region at all, and it will be
difficult to learn any but the simplest classifications or functions.
It is also bad to have the data confined to a very narraw range such as
[0.1,0.1], as shown at lines0.1to0.1.gif, since most of the initial
hyperplanes will miss such a small region.
Thus it is easy to see that you will get better initializations if the data
are centered near zero and if most of the data are distributed over an
interval of roughly [1,1] or [2,2]. If you are firmly opposed to the idea
of standardizing the input variables, you can compensate by transforming the
initial weights, but this is much more complicated than standardizing the
input variables.
Standardizing input variables has different effects on different training
algorithms for MLPs. For example:
o Steepest descent is very sensitive to scaling. The more illconditioned
the Hessian is, the slower the convergence. Hence, scaling is an
important consideration for gradient descent methods such as standard
backprop.
o QuasiNewton and conjugate gradient methods begin with a steepest descent
step and therefore are scale sensitive. However, they accumulate
secondorder information as training proceeds and hence are less scale
sensitive than pure gradient descent.
o NewtonRaphson and GaussNewton, if implemented correctly, are
theoretically invariant under scale changes as long as none of the
scaling is so extreme as to produce underflow or overflow.
o LevenbergMarquardt is scale invariant as long as no ridging is required.
There are several different ways to implement ridging; some are scale
invariant and some are not. Performance under bad scaling will depend on
details of the implementation.
For more information on illconditioning, see
ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/illcond/illcond.html
Two of the most useful ways to standardize inputs are:
o Mean 0 and standard deviation 1
o Midrange 0 and range 2 (i.e., minimum 1 and maximum 1)
Note that statistics such as the mean and standard deviation are computed
from the training data, not from the validation or test data. The validation
and test data must be standardized using the statistics computed from the
training data.
Formulas are as follows:
Notation:
X = value of the raw input variable X for the ith training case
i
S = standardized value corresponding to X
i i
N = number of training cases
Standardize X to mean 0 and standard deviation 1:
i
sum X
i i
mean = 
N
2
sum( X  mean)
i i
std = sqrt(  )
N  1
X  mean
i
S = 
i std
Standardize X to midrange 0 and range 2:
i
max X + min X
i i i i
midrange = 
2
range = max X  min X
i i i i
X  midrange
i
S = 
i range / 2
Various other pairs of location and scale estimators can be used besides the
mean and standard deviation, or midrange and range. Robust estimates of
location and scale are desirable if the inputs contain outliers. For
example, see:
Iglewicz, B. (1983), "Robust scale estimators and confidence intervals
for location", in Hoaglin, D.C., Mosteller, M. and Tukey, J.W., eds.,
Understanding Robust and Exploratory Data Analysis, NY: Wiley.
Should I standardize the target variables (column vectors)?
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Standardizing target variables is typically more a convenience for getting
good initial weights than a necessity. However, if you have two or more
target variables and your error function is scalesensitive like the usual
least (mean) squares error function, then the variability of each target
relative to the others can effect how well the net learns that target. If
one target has a range of 0 to 1, while another target has a range of 0 to
1,000,000, the net will expend most of its effort learning the second target
to the possible exclusion of the first. So it is essential to rescale the
targets so that their variability reflects their importance, or at least is
not in inverse relation to their importance. If the targets are of equal
importance, they should typically be standardized to the same range or the
same standard deviation.
The scaling of the targets does not affect their importance in training if
you use maximum likelihood estimation and estimate a separate scale
parameter (such as a standard deviation) for each target variable. In this
case, the importance of each target is inversely related to its estimated
scale parameter. In other words, noisier targets will be given less
importance.
For weight decay and Bayesian estimation, the scaling of the targets affects
the decay values and prior distributions. Hence it is usually most
convenient to work with standardized targets.
If you are standardizing targets to equalize their importance, then you
should probably standardize to mean 0 and standard deviation 1, or use
related robust estimators, as discussed under Should I standardize the input
variables (column vectors)? If you are standardizing targets to force the
values into the range of the output activation function, it is important to
use lower and upper bounds for the values, rather than the minimum and
maximum values in the training set. For example, if the output activation
function has range [1,1], you can use the following formulas:
Y = value of the raw target variable Y for the ith training case
i
Z = standardized value corresponding to Y
i i
upper bound of Y + lower bound of Y
midrange = 
2
range = upper bound of Y  lower bound of Y
Y  midrange
i
Z = 
i range / 2
For a range of [0,1], you can use the following formula:
Y  lower bound of Y
i
Z = 
i upper bound of Y  lower bound of Y
And of course, you apply the inverse of the standardization formula to the
network outputs to restore them to the scale of the original target values.
If the target variable does not have known upper and lower bounds, it is not
advisable to use an output activation function with a bounded range. You can
use an identity output activation function or other unbounded output
activation function instead; see Why use activation functions?
Should I standardize the variables (column vectors) for
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
unsupervised learning?
++++++++++++++++++++++
The most commonly used methods of unsupervised learning, including various
kinds of vector quantization, Kohonen networks, Hebbian learning, etc.,
depend on Euclidean distances or scalarproduct similarity measures. The
considerations are therefore the same as for standardizing inputs in RBF
networkssee Should I standardize the input variables (column vectors)?
above. In particular, if one input has a large variance and another a small
variance, the latter will have little or no influence on the results.
If you are using unsupervised competitive learning to try to discover
natural clusters in the data, rather than for data compression, simply
standardizing the variables may be inadequate. For more sophisticated
methods of preprocessing, see:
Art, D., Gnanadesikan, R., and Kettenring, R. (1982), "Databased Metrics
for Cluster Analysis," Utilitas Mathematica, 21A, 7599.
Jannsen, P., Marron, J.S., Veraverbeke, N, and Sarle, W.S. (1995), "Scale
measures for bandwidth selection", J. of Nonparametric Statistics, 5,
359380.
Better yet for finding natural clusters, try mixture models or nonparametric
density estimation. For example::
Girman, C.J. (1994), "Cluster Analysis and Classification Tree
Methodology as an Aid to Improve Understanding of Benign Prostatic
Hyperplasia," Ph.D. thesis, Chapel Hill, NC: Department of Biostatistics,
University of North Carolina.
McLachlan, G.J. and Basford, K.E. (1988), Mixture Models, New York:
Marcel Dekker, Inc.
SAS Institute Inc. (1993), SAS/STAT Software: The MODECLUS Procedure, SAS
Technical Report P256, Cary, NC: SAS Institute Inc.
Titterington, D.M., Smith, A.F.M., and Makov, U.E. (1985), Statistical
Analysis of Finite Mixture Distributions, New York: John Wiley & Sons,
Inc.
Wong, M.A. and Lane, T. (1983), "A kth Nearest Neighbor Clustering
Procedure," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series B, 45,
362368.
Should I standardize the input cases (row vectors)?
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Whereas standardizing variables is usually beneficial, the effect of
standardizing cases (row vectors) depends on the particular data. Cases are
typically standardized only across the input variables, since including the
target variable(s) in the standardization would make prediction impossible.
There are some kinds of networks, such as simple Kohonen nets, where it is
necessary to standardize the input cases to a common Euclidean length; this
is a side effect of the use of the inner product as a similarity measure. If
the network is modified to operate on Euclidean distances instead of inner
products, it is no longer necessary to standardize the input cases.
Standardization of cases should be approached with caution because it
discards information. If that information is irrelevant, then standardizing
cases can be quite helpful. If that information is important, then
standardizing cases can be disastrous. Issues regarding the standardization
of cases must be carefully evaluated in every application. There are no
rules of thumb that apply to all applications.
You may want to standardize each case if there is extraneous variability
between cases. Consider the common situation in which each input variable
represents a pixel in an image. If the images vary in exposure, and exposure
is irrelevant to the target values, then it would usually help to subtract
the mean of each case to equate the exposures of different cases. If the
images vary in contrast, and contrast is irrelevant to the target values,
then it would usually help to divide each case by its standard deviation to
equate the contrasts of different cases. Given sufficient data, a NN could
learn to ignore exposure and contrast. However, training will be easier and
generalization better if you can remove the extraneous exposure and contrast
information before training the network.
As another example, suppose you want to classify plant specimens according
to species but the specimens are at different stages of growth. You have
measurements such as stem length, leaf length, and leaf width. However, the
overall size of the specimen is determined by age or growing conditions,
not by species. Given sufficient data, a NN could learn to ignore the size
of the specimens and classify them by shape instead. However, training will
be easier and generalization better if you can remove the extraneous size
information before training the network. Size in the plant example
corresponds to exposure in the image example.
If the input data are measured on an interval scale (for information on
scales of measurement, see "Measurement theory: Frequently asked questions",
at ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/measurement.html) you can control for size
by subtracting a measure of the overall size of each case from each datum.
For example, if no other direct measure of size is available, you could
subtract the mean of each row of the input matrix, producing a rowcentered
input matrix.
If the data are measured on a ratio scale, you can control for size by
dividing each datum by a measure of overall size. It is common to divide by
the sum or by the arithmetic mean. For positive ratio data, however, the
geometric mean is often a more natural measure of size than the arithmetic
mean. It may also be more meaningful to analyze the logarithms of positive
ratioscaled data, in which case you can subtract the arithmetic mean after
taking logarithms. You must also consider the dimensions of measurement. For
example, if you have measures of both length and weight, you may need to
cube the measures of length or take the cube root of the weights.
In NN aplications with ratiolevel data, it is common to divide by the
Euclidean length of each row. If the data are positive, dividing by the
Euclidean length has properties similar to dividing by the sum or arithmetic
mean, since the former projects the data points onto the surface of a
hypersphere while the latter projects the points onto a hyperplane. If the
dimensionality is not too high, the resulting configurations of points on
the hypersphere and hyperplane are usually quite similar. If the data
contain negative values, then the hypersphere and hyperplane can diverge
widely.

Subject: Should I nonlinearly transform the data?
==================================================
Most importantly, nonlinear transformations of the targets are important
with noisy data, via their effect on the error function. Many commonly used
error functions are functions solely of the difference abs(targetoutput).
Nonlinear transformations (unlike linear transformations) change the
relative sizes of these differences. With most error functions, the net will
expend more effort, so to speak, trying to learn target values for which
abs(targetoutput) is large.
For example, suppose you are trying to predict the price of a stock. If the
price of the stock is 10 (in whatever currency unit) and the output of the
net is 5 or 15, yielding a difference of 5, that is a huge error. If the
price of the stock is 1000 and the output of the net is 995 or 1005,
yielding the same difference of 5, that is a tiny error. You don't want the
net to treat those two differences as equally important. By taking
logarithms, you are effectively measuring errors in terms of ratios rather
than differences, since a difference between two logs corresponds to the
ratio of the original values. This has approximately the same effect as
looking at percentage differences, abs(targetoutput)/target or
abs(targetoutput)/output, rather than simple differences.
Less importantly, smooth functions are usually easier to learn than rough
functions. Generalization is also usually better for smooth functions. So
nonlinear transformations (of either inputs or targets) that make the
inputoutput function smoother are usually beneficial. For classification
problems, you want the class boundaries to be smooth. When there are only a
few inputs, it is often possible to transform the data to a linear
relationship, in which case you can use a linear model instead of a more
complex neural net, and many things (such as estimating generalization error
and error bars) will become much simpler. A variety of NN architectures (RBF
networks, Bspline networks, etc.) amount to using many nonlinear
transformations, possibly involving multiple variables simultaneously, to
try to make the inputoutput function approximately linear (Ripley 1996,
chapter 4). There are particular applications, such as signal and image
processing, in which very elaborate transformations are useful (Masters
1994).
It is usually advisable to choose an error function appropriate for the
distribution of noise in your target variables (McCullagh and Nelder 1989).
But if your software does not provide a sufficient variety of error
functions, then you may need to transform the target so that the noise
distribution conforms to whatever error function you are using. For example,
if you have to use least(mean)squares training, you will get the best
results if the noise distribution is approximately Gaussian with constant
variance, since least(mean)squares is maximum likelihood in that case.
Heavytailed distributions (those in which extreme values occur more often
than in a Gaussian distribution, often as indicated by high kurtosis) are
especially of concern, due to the loss of statistical efficiency of
least(mean)square estimates (Huber 1981). Note that what is important is
the distribution of the noise, not the distribution of the target values.
The distribution of inputs may suggest transformations, but this is by far
the least important consideration among those listed here. If an input is
strongly skewed, a logarithmic, square root, or other power (between 1 and
1) transformation may be worth trying. If an input has high kurtosis but low
skewness, an arctan transform can reduce the influence of extreme values:
input  mean
arctan( c  )
stand. dev.
where c is a constant that controls how far the extreme values are brought
in towards the mean. Arctan usually works better than tanh, which squashes
the extreme values too much. Using robust estimates of location and scale
(Iglewicz 1983) instead of the mean and standard deviation will work even
better for pathological distributions.
References:
Atkinson, A.C. (1985) Plots, Transformations and Regression, Oxford:
Clarendon Press.
Carrol, R.J. and Ruppert, D. (1988) Transformation and Weighting in
Regression, London: Chapman and Hall.
Huber, P.J. (1981), Robust Statistics, NY: Wiley.
Iglewicz, B. (1983), "Robust scale estimators and confidence intervals
for location", in Hoaglin, D.C., Mosteller, M. and Tukey, J.W., eds.,
Understanding Robust and Exploratory Data Analysis, NY: Wiley.
McCullagh, P. and Nelder, J.A. (1989) Generalized Linear Models, 2nd
ed., London: Chapman and Hall.
Masters, T. (1994), Signal and Image Processing with Neural Networks: A
C++ Sourcebook, NY: Wiley.
Ripley, B.D. (1996), Pattern Recognition and Neural Networks,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Subject: How to measure importance of inputs?
=============================================
The answer to this question is rather long and so is not included directly
in the posted FAQ. See ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/importance.html.
Also see Pierre van de Laar's bibliography at
ftp://ftp.mbfys.kun.nl/snn/pub/pierre/connectionists.html, but don't believe
everything you read in those papers.

Subject: What is ART?
=====================
ART stands for "Adaptive Resonance Theory", invented by Stephen Grossberg in
1976. ART encompasses a wide variety of neural networks based explicitly on
neurophysiology. ART networks are defined algorithmically in terms of
detailed differential equations intended as plausible models of biological
neurons. In practice, ART networks are implemented using analytical
solutions or approximations to these differential equations.
ART comes in several flavors, both supervised and unsupervised. As discussed
by Moore (1988), the unsupervised ARTs are basically similar to many
iterative clustering algorithms in which each case is processed by:
1. finding the "nearest" cluster seed (AKA prototype or template) to that
case
2. updating that cluster seed to be "closer" to the case
where "nearest" and "closer" can be defined in hundreds of different ways.
In ART, the framework is modified slightly by introducing the concept of
"resonance" so that each case is processed by:
1. finding the "nearest" cluster seed that "resonates" with the case
2. updating that cluster seed to be "closer" to the case
"Resonance" is just a matter of being within a certain threshold of a second
similarity measure. A crucial feature of ART is that if no seed resonates
with the case, a new cluster is created as in Hartigan's (1975) leader
algorithm. This feature is said to solve the "stabilityplasticity dilemma"
(See "Sequential Learning, Catastrophic Interference, and the
StabilityPlasticity Dilemma"
ART has its own jargon. For example, data are called an "arbitrary sequence
of input patterns". The current training case is stored in "short term
memory" and cluster seeds are "long term memory". A cluster is a "maximally
compressed pattern recognition code". The two stages of finding the nearest
seed to the input are performed by an "Attentional Subsystem" and an
"Orienting Subsystem", the latter of which performs "hypothesis testing",
which simply refers to the comparison with the vigilance threshhold, not to
hypothesis testing in the statistical sense. "Stable learning" means that
the algorithm converges. So the oftenrepeated claim that ART algorithms are
"capable of rapid stable learning of recognition codes in response to
arbitrary sequences of input patterns" merely means that ART algorithms are
clustering algorithms that converge; it does not mean, as one might naively
assume, that the clusters are insensitive to the sequence in which the
training patterns are presentedquite the opposite is true.
There are various supervised ART algorithms that are named with the suffix
"MAP", as in Fuzzy ARTMAP. These algorithms cluster both the inputs and
targets and associate the two sets of clusters. The effect is somewhat
similar to counterpropagation. The main disadvantage of most ARTMAP
algorithms is that they have no mechanism to avoid overfitting and hence
should not be used with noisy data (Williamson, 1995).
For more information, see the ART FAQ at http://www.wi.leidenuniv.nl/art/
and the "ART Headquarters" at Boston University, http://cnsweb.bu.edu/. For
a statistical view of ART, see Sarle (1995).
For C software, see the ART Gallery at
http://cnsweb.bu.edu/pub/laliden/WWW/nnet.frame.html
References:
Carpenter, G.A., Grossberg, S. (1996), "Learning, Categorization, Rule
Formation, and Prediction by Fuzzy Neural Networks," in Chen, C.H., ed.
(1996) Fuzzy Logic and Neural Network Handbook, NY: McGrawHill, pp.
1.31.45.
Hartigan, J.A. (1975), Clustering Algorithms, NY: Wiley.
Kasuba, T. (1993), "Simplified Fuzzy ARTMAP," AI Expert, 8, 1825.
Moore, B. (1988), "ART 1 and Pattern Clustering," in Touretzky, D.,
Hinton, G. and Sejnowski, T., eds., Proceedings of the 1988
Connectionist Models Summer School, 174185, San Mateo, CA: Morgan
Kaufmann.
Sarle, W.S. (1995), "Why Statisticians Should Not FART,"
ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/fart.txt
Williamson, J.R. (1995), "Gaussian ARTMAP: A Neural Network for Fast
Incremental Learning of Noisy Multidimensional Maps," Technical Report
CAS/CNS95003, Boston University, Center of Adaptive Systems and
Department of Cognitive and Neural Systems.

Subject: What is PNN?
=====================
PNN or "Probabilistic Neural Network" is Donald Specht's term for kernel
discriminant analysis. (Kernels are also called "Parzen windows".) You can
think of it as a normalized RBF network in which there is a hidden unit
centered at every training case. These RBF units are called "kernels" and
are usually probability density functions such as the Gaussian. The
hiddentooutput weights are usually 1 or 0; for each hidden unit, a weight
of 1 is used for the connection going to the output that the case belongs
to, while all other connections are given weights of 0. Alternatively, you
can adjust these weights for the prior probabilities of each class. So the
only weights that need to be learned are the widths of the RBF units. These
widths (often a single width is used) are called "smoothing parameters" or
"bandwidths" and are usually chosen by crossvalidation or by more esoteric
methods that are not wellknown in the neural net literature; gradient
descent is not used.
Specht's claim that a PNN trains 100,000 times faster than backprop is at
best misleading. While they are not iterative in the same sense as backprop,
kernel methods require that you estimate the kernel bandwidth, and this
requires accessing the data many times. Furthermore, computing a single
output value with kernel methods requires either accessing the entire
training data or clever programming, and either way is much slower than
computing an output with a feedforward net. And there are a variety of
methods for training feedforward nets that are much faster than standard
backprop. So depending on what you are doing and how you do it, PNN may be
either faster or slower than a feedforward net.
PNN is a universal approximator for smooth classconditional densities, so
it should be able to solve any smooth classification problem given enough
data. The main drawback of PNN is that, like kernel methods in general, it
suffers badly from the curse of dimensionality. PNN cannot ignore irrelevant
inputs without major modifications to the basic algorithm. So PNN is not
likely to be the top choice if you have more than 5 or 6 nonredundant
inputs. For modified algorithms that deal with irrelevant inputs, see
Masters (1995) and Lowe (1995).
But if all your inputs are relevant, PNN has the very useful ability to tell
you whether a test case is similar (i.e. has a high density) to any of the
training data; if not, you are extrapolating and should view the output
classification with skepticism. This ability is of limited use when you have
irrelevant inputs, since the similarity is measured with respect to all of
the inputs, not just the relevant ones.
References:
Hand, D.J. (1982) Kernel Discriminant Analysis, Research Studies Press.
Lowe, D.G. (1995), "Similarity metric learning for a variablekernel
classifier," Neural Computation, 7, 7285,
http://www.cs.ubc.ca/spider/lowe/pubs.html
McLachlan, G.J. (1992) Discriminant Analysis and Statistical Pattern
Recognition, Wiley.
Masters, T. (1993). Practical Neural Network Recipes in C++, San Diego:
Academic Press.
Masters, T. (1995) Advanced Algorithms for Neural Networks: A C++
Sourcebook, NY: John Wiley and Sons, ISBN 0471105880
Michie, D., Spiegelhalter, D.J. and Taylor, C.C. (1994) Machine
Learning, Neural and Statistical Classification, Ellis Horwood; this book
is out of print but available online at
http://www.amsta.leeds.ac.uk/~charles/statlog/
Scott, D.W. (1992) Multivariate Density Estimation, Wiley.
Specht, D.F. (1990) "Probabilistic neural networks," Neural Networks, 3,
110118.

Subject: What is GRNN?
======================
GRNN or "General Regression Neural Network" is Donald Specht's term for
NadarayaWatson kernel regression, also reinvented in the NN literature by
Schi\oler and Hartmann. (Kernels are also called "Parzen windows".) You can
think of it as a normalized RBF network in which there is a hidden unit
centered at every training case. These RBF units are called "kernels" and
are usually probability density functions such as the Gaussian. The
hiddentooutput weights are just the target values, so the output is simply
a weighted average of the target values of training cases close to the given
input case. The only weights that need to be learned are the widths of the
RBF units. These widths (often a single width is used) are called "smoothing
parameters" or "bandwidths" and are usually chosen by crossvalidation or by
more esoteric methods that are not wellknown in the neural net literature;
gradient descent is not used.
GRNN is a universal approximator for smooth functions, so it should be able
to solve any smooth functionapproximation problem given enough data. The
main drawback of GRNN is that, like kernel methods in general, it suffers
badly from the curse of dimensionality. GRNN cannot ignore irrelevant inputs
without major modifications to the basic algorithm. So GRNN is not likely to
be the top choice if you have more than 5 or 6 nonredundant inputs.
References:
Caudill, M. (1993), "GRNN and Bear It," AI Expert, Vol. 8, No. 5 (May),
2833.
Haerdle, W. (1990), Applied Nonparametric Regression, Cambridge Univ.
Press.
Masters, T. (1995) Advanced Algorithms for Neural Networks: A C++
Sourcebook, NY: John Wiley and Sons, ISBN 0471105880
Nadaraya, E.A. (1964) "On estimating regression", Theory Probab. Applic.
10, 18690.
Schi\oler, H. and Hartmann, U. (1992) "Mapping Neural Network Derived
from the Parzen Window Estimator", Neural Networks, 5, 903909.
Specht, D.F. (1968) "A practical technique for estimating general
regression surfaces," Lockheed report LMSC 679686, Defense Technical
Information Center AD672505.
Specht, D.F. (1991) "A Generalized Regression Neural Network", IEEE
Transactions on Neural Networks, 2, Nov. 1991, 568576.
Wand, M.P., and Jones, M.C. (1995), Kernel Smoothing, London: Chapman &
Hall.
Watson, G.S. (1964) "Smooth regression analysis", Sankhy\=a, Series A,
26, 35972.

Subject: What does unsupervised learning learn?
================================================
Unsupervised learning allegedly involves no target values. In fact, for most
varieties of unsupervised learning, the targets are the same as the inputs
(Sarle 1994). In other words, unsupervised learning usually performs the
same task as an autoassociative network, compressing the information from
the inputs (Deco and Obradovic 1996). Unsupervised learning is very useful
for data visualization (Ripley 1996), although the NN literature generally
ignores this application.
Unsupervised competitive learning is used in a wide variety of fields under
a wide variety of names, the most common of which is "cluster analysis" (see
the Classification Society of North America's web site for more information
on cluster analysis, including software, at http://www.pitt.edu/~csna/.) The
main form of competitive learning in the NN literature is vector
quantization (VQ, also called a "Kohonen network", although Kohonen invented
several other types of networks as wellsee "How many kinds of Kohonen
networks exist?" which provides more reference on VQ). Kosko (1992) and
HechtNielsen (1990) review neural approaches to VQ, while the textbook by
Gersho and Gray (1992) covers the area from the perspective of signal
processing. In statistics, VQ has been called "principal point analysis"
(Flury, 1990, 1993; Tarpey et al., 1994) but is more frequently encountered
in the guise of kmeans clustering. In VQ, each of the competitive units
corresponds to a cluster center (also called a codebook vector), and the
error function is the sum of squared Euclidean distances between each
training case and the nearest center. Often, each training case is
normalized to a Euclidean length of one, which allows distances to be
simplified to inner products. The more general error function based on
distances is the same error function used in kmeans clustering, one of the
most common types of cluster analysis (Max 1960; MacQueen 1967; Anderberg
1973; Hartigan 1975; Hartigan and Wong 1979; Linde, Buzo, and Gray 1980;
Lloyd 1982). The kmeans model is an approximation to the normal mixture
model (McLachlan and Basford 1988) assuming that the mixture components
(clusters) all have spherical covariance matrices and equal sampling
probabilities. Normal mixtures have found a variety of uses in neural
networks (e.g., Bishop 1995). Balakrishnan, Cooper, Jacob, and Lewis (1994)
found that kmeans algorithms used as normalmixture approximations recover
cluster membership more accurately than Kohonen algorithms.
Hebbian learning is the other most common variety of unsupervised learning
(Hertz, Krogh, and Palmer 1991). Hebbian learning minimizes the same error
function as an autoassociative network with a linear hidden layer, trained
by least squares, and is therefore a form of dimensionality reduction. This
error function is equivalent to the sum of squared distances between each
training case and a linear subspace of the input space (with distances
measured perpendicularly), and is minimized by the leading principal
components (Pearson 1901; Hotelling 1933; Rao 1964; Joliffe 1986; Jackson
1991; Diamantaras and Kung 1996). There are variations of Hebbian learning
that explicitly produce the principal components (Hertz, Krogh, and Palmer
1991; Karhunen 1994; Deco and Obradovic 1996; Diamantaras and Kung 1996).
Perhaps the most novel form of unsupervised learning in the NN literature is
Kohonen's selforganizing (feature) map (SOM, Kohonen 1995). SOMs combine
competitive learning with dimensionality reduction by smoothing the clusters
with respect to an a priori grid (see "How many kinds of Kohonen networks
exist?") for more explanation). But Kohonen's original SOM algorithm does
not optimize an "energy" function (Erwin et al., 1992; Kohonen 1995, pp.
126, 237). The SOM algorithm involves a tradeoff between the accuracy of
the quantization and the smoothness of the topological mapping, but there is
no explicit combination of these two properties into an energy function.
Hence Kohonen's SOM is not simply an informationcompression method like
most other unsupervised learning networks. Neither does Kohonen's SOM have a
clear interpretation as a density estimation method. Convergence of
Kohonen's SOM algorithm is allegedly demonstrated by Yin and Allinson
(1995), but their "proof" assumes the neighborhood size becomes zero, in
which case the algorithm reduces to VQ and no longer has topological
ordering properties (Kohonen 1995, p. 111). The best explanation of what a
Kohonen SOM learns seems to be provided by the connection between SOMs and
principal curves and surfaces explained by Mulier and Cherkassky (1995) and
Ritter, Martinetz, and Schulten (1992). For further explanation, see "How
many kinds of Kohonen networks exist?"
A variety of energy functions for SOMs have been proposed (e.g., Luttrell,
1994), some of which show a connection between SOMs and multidimensional
scaling (Goodhill and Sejnowski 1997). There are also other approaches to
SOMs that have clearer theoretical justification using mixture models with
Bayesian priors or constraints (Utsugi, 1996, 1997; Bishop, Svensén, and
Williams, 1997).
For additional references on cluster analysis, see
ftp://ftp.sas.com/pub/neural/clus_bib.txt.
References:
Anderberg, M.R. (1973), Cluster Analysis for Applications, New York:
Academic Press, Inc.
Balakrishnan, P.V., Cooper, M.C., Jacob, V.S., and Lewis, P.A. (1994) "A
study of the classification capabilities of neural networks using
unsupervised learning: A comparison with kmeans clustering",
Psychometrika, 59, 509525.
Bishop, C.M. (1995), Neural Networks for Pattern Recognition, Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Bishop, C.M., Svensén, M., and Williams, C.K.I (1997), "GTM: A principled
alternative to the selforganizing map," in Mozer, M.C., Jordan, M.I.,
and Petsche, T., (eds.) Advances in Neural Information Processing
Systems 9, Cambrideg, MA: The MIT Press, pp. 354360. Also see
http://www.ncrg.aston.ac.uk/GTM/
Deco, G. and Obradovic, D. (1996), An InformationTheoretic Approach to
Neural Computing, NY: SpringerVerlag.
Diamantaras, K.I., and Kung, S.Y. (1996) Principal Component Neural
Networks: Theory and Applications, NY: Wiley.
Erwin, E., Obermayer, K., and Schulten, K. (1992), "Selforganizing maps:
Ordering, convergence properties and energy functions," Biological
Cybernetics, 67, 4755.
Flury, B. (1990), "Principal points," Biometrika, 77, 3341.
Flury, B. (1993), "Estimation of principal points," Applied Statistics,
42, 139151.
Gersho, A. and Gray, R.M. (1992), Vector Quantization and Signal
Compression, Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Goodhill, G.J., and Sejnowski, T.J. (1997), "A unifying objective
function for topographic mappings," Neural Computation, 9, 12911303.
Hartigan, J.A. (1975), Clustering Algorithms, NY: Wiley.
Hartigan, J.A., and Wong, M.A. (1979), "Algorithm AS136: A kmeans
clustering algorithm," Applied Statistics, 28100108.
HechtNielsen, R. (1990), Neurocomputing, Reading, MA: AddisonWesley.
Hertz, J., Krogh, A., and Palmer, R. (1991). Introduction to the Theory of
Neural Computation. AddisonWesley: Redwood City, California.
Hotelling, H. (1933), "Analysis of a Complex of Statistical Variables
into Principal Components," Journal of Educational Psychology, 24,
417441, 498520.
Ismail, M.A., and Kamel, M.S. (1989), "Multidimensional data clustering
utilizing hybrid search strategies," Pattern Recognition, 22, 7589.
Jackson, J.E. (1991), A User's Guide to Principal Components, NY: Wiley.
Jolliffe, I.T. (1986), Principal Component Analysis, SpringerVerlag.
Karhunen, J. (1994), "Stability of Oja's PCA subspace rule," Neural
Computation, 6, 739747.
Kohonen, T. (1995/1997), SelfOrganizing Maps, Berlin: SpringerVerlag.
Kosko, B.(1992), Neural Networks and Fuzzy Systems, Englewood Cliffs,
N.J.: PrenticeHall.
Linde, Y., Buzo, A., and Gray, R. (1980), "An algorithm for vector
quantizer design," IEEE Transactions on Communications, 28, 8495.
Lloyd, S. (1982), "Least squares quantization in PCM," IEEE Transactions
on Information Theory, 28, 129137.
Luttrell, S.P. (1994), "A Bayesian analysis of selforganizing maps,"
Neural Computation, 6, 767794.
McLachlan, G.J. and Basford, K.E. (1988), Mixture Models, NY: Marcel
Dekker, Inc.
MacQueen, J.B. (1967), "Some Methods for Classification and Analysis of
Multivariate Observations,"Proceedings of the Fifth Berkeley Symposium on
Mathematical Statistics and Probability, 1, 281297.
Max, J. (1960), "Quantizing for minimum distortion," IEEE Transactions on
Information Theory, 6, 712.
Mulier, F. and Cherkassky, V. (1995), "SelfOrganization as an Iterative
Kernel Smoothing Process," Neural Computation, 7, 11651177.
Pearson, K. (1901) "On Lines and Planes of Closest Fit to Systems of
Points in Space," Phil. Mag., 2(6), 559572.
Rao, C.R. (1964), "The Use and Interpretation of Principal Component
Analysis in Applied Research," Sankya A, 26, 329358.
Ripley, B.D. (1996) Pattern Recognition and Neural Networks, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Ritter, H., Martinetz, T., and Schulten, K. (1992), Neural Computation
and SelfOrganizing Maps: An Introduction, Reading, MA: AddisonWesley.
Sarle, W.S. (1994), "Neural Networks and Statistical Models," in SAS
Institute Inc., Proceedings of the Nineteenth Annual SAS Users Group
International Conference, Cary, NC: SAS Institute Inc., pp 15381550,
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Subject: Help! My NN won't learn! What should I do?
====================================================
The following advice is intended for inexperienced users. Experts may try
more daring methods.
If you are using a multilayer perceptron (MLP):
o Check data for outliers. Transform variables or delete bad cases as
appropriate to the purpose of the analysis.
o Standardize quantitative inputs as described in "Should I standardize the
input variables?"
o Encode categorical inputs as described in "How should categories be
encoded?"
o Make sure you have more training cases than the total number of input
units. The number of training cases required depends on the amount of
noise in the targets and the complexity of the function you are trying to
learn, but as a starting point, it's a good idea to have at least 10
times as many training cases as input units. This may not be enough for
highly complex functions. For classification problems, the number of
cases in the smallest class should be at least several times the number
of input units.
o If the target is:
o quantitative, then it is usually a good idea to standardize the target
variable as described in "Should I standardize the target variables?"
Use an identity (usually called "linear") output activation function.
o binary, then use 0/1 coding and a logistic output activation function.
o categorical with 3 or more categories, then use 1ofC encoding as
described in "How should categories be encoded?" and use a softmax
output activation function as described in "What is a softmax
activation function?"
o Use a tanh (hyperbolic tangent) activation function for the hidden units.
See "Why use activation functions?" for more information.
o Use a bias term (sometimes called a "threshold") in every hidden and
output unit. See "Why use a bias/threshold?" for an explanation of why
biases are important.
o When the network has hidden units, the results of training may depend
critically on the random initial weights. You can set each initial weight
(including biases) to a random number such as any of the following:
o A uniform random variable between 2 and 2.
o A uniform random variable between 0.2 and 0.2.
o A normal random variable with a mean of 0 and a standard deviation of
1.
o A normal random variable with a mean of 0 and a standard deviation of
0.1.
If any layer in the network has a large number of units, you will need to
adjust the initial weights (not including biases) of the connections from
the large layer to subsequent layers. Generate random initial weights as
described above, but then divide each of these random weights by the
square root of the number of units in the large layer. More sophisticated
methods are described by Bishop (1995).
Train the network using several (anywhere from 10 to 1000) different sets
of random initial weights. For the operational network, you can either
use the weights that produce the smallest training error, or combine
several trained networks as described in "How to combine networks?"
o If possible, use conventional numerical optimization techniques as
described in "What are conjugate gradients, LevenbergMarquardt, etc.?"
If those techniques are unavailable in the software you are using, get
better software. If you can't get better software, use RPROP or Quickprop
as described in "What is backprop?" Only as a last resort should you use
standard backprop.
o Use batch training, because there are fewer mistakes that can be made
with batch training than with incremental (sometimes called "online")
training. If you insist on using incremental training, present the
training cases to the network in random order. For more details, see
"What are batch, incremental, online, offline, deterministic,
stochastic, adaptive, instantaneous, pattern, epoch, constructive, and
sequential learning?"
o If you have to use standard backprop, you must set the learning rate by
trial and error. Experiment with different learning rates. If the weights
and errors change very slowly, try higher learning rates. If the weights
fluctuate wildly and the error increases during training, try lower
learning rates. If you follow all the instructions given above, you could
start with a learning rate of .1 for batch training or .01 for
incremental training.
Momentum is not as critical as learning rate, but to be safe, set the
momentum to zero. A larger momentum requires a smaller learning rate.
For more details, see What learning rate should be used for backprop?"
o Use a separate test set to estimate generalization error. If the test
error is much higher than the training error, the network is probably
overfitting. Read Part 3: Generalization of the FAQ and use one of the
methods described there to improve generalization, such as early
stopping, weight decay, or Bayesian learning.
o Start with one hidden layer.
For a classification problem with many categories, start with one unit in
the hidden layer; otherwise, start with zero hidden units. Train the
network, add one or few hidden units, retrain the network, and repeat.
When you get overfitting, stop adding hidden units. For more information
on the number of hidden layers and hidden units, see "How many hidden
layers should I use?" and "How many hidden units should I use?" in Part 3
of the FAQ.
If the generalization error is still not satisfactory, you can try:
o adding a second hidden layer
o using an RBF network
o transforming the input variables
o deleting inputs that are not useful
o adding new input variables
o getting more training cases
o etc.
If you are writing your own software, the opportunities for mistakes are
limitless. Perhaps the most critical thing for gradientbased algorithms
such as backprop is that you compute the gradient (partial derivatives)
correctly. The usual backpropagation algorithm will give you the partial
derivatives of the objective function with respect to each weight in the
network. You can check these partial derivatives by using finitedifference
approximations (Gill, Murray, and Wright, 1981) as follows:
1. Be sure to standardize the variables as described above.
2. Initialize the weights W as described above. For convenience of
notation, let's arrange all the weights in one long vector so we can use
a single subsbcript i to refer to different weights W_i. Call the
entire set of values of the initial weights w0. So W is a vector of
variables, and w0 is a vector of values of those variables.
3. Let's use the symbol F(W) to indicate the objective function you are
trying to optimize with respect to the weights. If you are using batch
training, F(W) is computed over the entire training set. If you are
using incremental training, choose any one training case and compute
F(W) for that single training case; use this same training case for all
the following steps.
4. Pick any one weight W_i. Initially, W_i = w0_i.
5. Choose a constant called h with a value anywhere from .0001 to
.00000001.
6. Change the value of W_i from w0_i to w0_i + h. Do not change any
of the other weights. Compute the value of the objective function f1 =
F(W) using this modified value of W_i.
7. Change the value of W_i to w0_i  h. Do not change any of the other
weights. Compute another new value of the objective function f2 =
F(W).
8. The central finite difference approximation to the partial derivative for
W_i is (f2f1)/(2h). This value should usually be within about
10% of the partial derivative computed by backpropagation, except for
derivatives close to zero. If the finite difference approximation is very
different from the partial derivative computed by backpropagation, try a
different value of h. If no value of h provides close agreement between
the finite difference approximation and the partial derivative computed
by backpropagation, you probably have a bug.
9. Repeat the above computations for each weight W_i for i=1, 2, 3,
... up to the total number of weights.
References:
Bishop, C.M. (1995), Neural Networks for Pattern Recognition, Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Gill, P.E., Murray, W. and Wright, M.H. (1981) Practical Optimization,
Academic Press: London.

Next part is part 3 (of 7). Previous part is part 1.

Warren S. Sarle SAS Institute Inc. The opinions expressed here
saswss@unx.sas.com SAS Campus Drive are mine and not necessarily
(919) 6778000 Cary, NC 27513, USA those of SAS Institute.