Mathematical Perspectives on Neural Networks

By Paul Smolensky; Michael C. Mozer et al. | Go to book overview

15 Backpropagation: The Basic Theory

David E. Rumelhart
Richard Durbin
Richard Golden
Yves Chauvin
Department of Psychology, Stanford University


INTRODUCTION

Since the SYSTEMation of the PDP volumes in 1986,1 learning by backpropagation has become the most popular method of training neural networks. The reason for the popularity is the underlying simplicity and relative power of the algorithm. Its power derives from the fact that, unlike its precursors, the perceptron learning rule and the Widrow-Hoff learning rule, it can be employed for training nonlinear networks of arbitrary connectivity. Since such networks are often required for real-world applications, such a learning procedure is critical. Nearly as important as its power in explaining its popularity is its simplicity. The basic idea is old and simple; namely define an error function and use hill climbing (or gradient descent if you prefer going downhill) to find a set of weights which optimize performance on a particular task. The algorithm is so simple that it can be implemented in a few lines of code, and there have been no doubt many thousands of implementations of the algorithm by now.

The name back propagation actually comes from the term employed by Rosenblatt ( 1962) for his attempt to generalize the perceptron learning algorithm to the multilayer case. There were many attempts to generalize the perceptron learning procedure to multiple layers during the 1960s and 1970s, but none of them were especially successful. There appear to have been at least three independent inventions of the modern version of the back-propagation algorithm: Paul Werbos developed the basic idea in 1974 in a Ph.D. dissertation entitled

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1
Parallel distributed processing: Explorations in the microstructure of cognition. Two volumes by Rumelhart, McClelland, and the PDP Research Group.

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