Artificial neural networks (ANNs) or connectionist systems are computing systems inspired by the biological neural networks that constitute animal brains. Such systems learn (progressively improve performance) to do tasks by considering examples, generally without task-specific programming. For example, in image recognition, they might learn to identify images that contain cats by analyzing example images that have been manually labeled as "cat" or "no cat" and using the analytic results to identify cats in other images. They have found most use in applications difficult to express in a traditional computer algorithm using rule-based programming.
An ANN is based on a collection of connected units called artificial neurons, (analogous to axons in a biological brain). Each connection (synapse) between neurons can transmit a signal to another neuron. The receiving (postsynaptic) neuron can process the signal(s) and then signal downstream neurons connected to it. Neurons may have state, generally represented by real numbers, typically between 0 and 1. Neurons and synapses may also have a weight that varies as learning proceeds, which can increase or decrease the strength of the signal that it sends downstream. Further, they may have a threshold such that only if the aggregate signal is below (or above) that level is the downstream signal sent.
Typically, neurons are organized in layers. Different layers may perform different kinds of transformations on their inputs. Signals travel from the first (input), to the last (output) layer, possibly after traversing the layers multiple times.
The original goal of the neural network approach was to solve problems in the same way that a human brain would. Over time, attention focused on matching specific mental abilities, leading to deviations from biology such as backpropagation, or passing information in the reverse direction and adjusting the network to reflect that information.
Neural networks have been used on a variety of tasks, including computer vision, speech recognition, machine translation, social network filtering, playing board and video games, medical diagnosis and in many other domains.
As of 2017, neural networks typically have a few thousand to a few million units and millions of connections. Their computing power is similar to a worm brain, several orders of magnitude simpler than a human brain. Despite this, they can perform functions (e.g., playing chess) that are far beyond a worm's capacity....LESS