Introduction to Neural Networks

Neural network basics

What are neural networks

Neural networks, commonly known as Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) are quite a simulation of human brain functionality in machine learning (ML) problems. ANNs shall be noted not as a solution for all the problems that arise, but would provide better results with many other techniques altogether for various ML tasks. Most common use of ANNs are clustering and classification, which can be used for regression tasks as well, but there are better methods when it comes to that.

Building blocks and functionality of ANNs


This is the building unit of the neural networks, which imitates the functionality of a human neuron. Typical neural networks uses the sigmoid function which is demonstrated below. This function is used mostly due to its nature of being able to write the derivative in terms of f(x) itself, which comes handy when minimizing error.

sigmoid function

z =  ∑ w×x
y = sigmoid(z)
w = weights
x = inputs

Neurons are connected in layers so that one layer can communicate with other layers forming a neural network. Inner layers other than the input and out put layers are called hidden layers. Outputs of one layer are fed to the inputs of another layer.

Adjusting weights

Learning for an ANN is the task of adjusting weights to minimize the error. This is performed by back propagation of error. For a simple neuron using Sigmoid function as the activation function, the error can be demonstrated as below. Lets consider a general case where weights are termed as vector W and inputs as vector X.

Error calculation and weight adjustment

From the above equation we can generalize the weight adjustment and surprisingly you’d have noted this only requires the details of the adjacent neuron levels. Thus this is a robust mechanism for learning, which is called back propagation algorithm. Started from output node and back propagated updating the weights of previous neurons.

Demo application with a simple javascript library

Let us write a simple application that will train using two images and apply a filter onto a given image. The following are the source and the target image for the training process.

Source image(left) and target image(right)

I have used an ANN that uses back propagation in order to adjust errors. The intension of the training is to find a function f(red, green, blue, alpha) to match the target color transformation. The target image is made using several color adjustments of the source image. Let’s see the code.



$ npm install
$ npm start

Source image should be input_image_train.jpg and target image name should be output_image_train.jpg. The image file to apply filter should be test.jpg and a new image file will be saved as out.jpg. Following are some example images I have filtered using the trained model.

Sample outputs

Input images (left) and output images(right)
Cool right? Training takes few seconds, but filtering is instantaneous. You can save the model for future use if needed. Which would be very smart in a real world application.