Training a Spiking Neural Network with Equilibrium Propagation

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Peter O’Connor, Efstratios Gavves, Max Welling ;
Proceedings of Machine Learning Research, PMLR 89:1516-1523, 2019.

Abstract

Backpropagation is almost universally used to train artificial neural networks. However, there are several reasons that backpropagation could not be plausibly implemented by biological neurons. Among these are the facts that (1) biological neurons appear to lack any mechanism for sending gradients backwards across synapses, and (2) biological “spiking” neurons emit binary signals, whereas back-propagation requires that neurons communicate continuous values between one another. Recently, Scellier and Bengio [2017], demonstrated an alternative to backpropagation, called Equilibrium Propagation, wherein gradients are implicitly computed by the dynamics of the neural network, so that neurons do not need an internal mechanism for backpropagation of gradients. This provides an interesting solution to problem (1). In this paper, we address problem (2) by proposing a way in which Equilibrium Propagation can be implemented with neurons which are constrained to just communicate binary values at each time step. We show that with appropriate step-size annealing, we can converge to the same fixed-point as a real-valued neural network, and that with predictive coding, we can make this convergence much faster. We demonstrate that the resulting model can be used to train a spiking neural network using the update scheme from Equilibrium propagation.

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