 # Neural Networks: For beginners. By beginners.

Source: Deep Learning on Medium Hold up! Why should you read an article written by a beginner? The answer is simple — I decided to write an article about neural networks which is written in a language so simplistic even a beginner like me can understand it, while also being resourceful enough to help somebody get a good grasp on this enormous material.

## Prerequisites

You need to have basic knowledge in:

• Linear Algebra
• Python
• NumPy

No need for you to excel in these, but it will be much easier if you have used them before.

## Code

I have put every snippet of code that you need throughout the article, but if you want to have the whole piece by your side here is the Jupyter Notebook:

## Introduction

So, neural nets. It’s the first thing that pops up in the minds of most of the common coders when they hear the buzzwords artificial intelligence and/or machine learning. Although not being the most fundamental material in the book, it is actually a not so bad starting point if explained in a beginner-friendly language.

Throughout this article I will take you on a journey starting from the very beginning of the neural networks ideology, take you through the core modern principles that make it learn, and finally show you a step-by-step implementation of a neural network model from scratch featuring Fully Connected, Activation, Flatten, Convolution and Pooling layers. This implementation is heavily based on and inspired by this amazing article by Omar Aflak which is a must-read for everyone who wants to learn more on the mathematical background of neural networks.

# Understanding Neural Networks

The history of neural networks traces back to 1943 when neurophysiologist Warren McCulloch and mathematician Walter Pitts portrayed a model of a human brain neuron with a simple electronic circuit which took a set of inputs, multiplied them by weighted values and put them through a threshold gate which gave as output a value of 0 or 1, based on the threshold value. This model was called the McCulloch-Pitts perceptron.

This idea was taken further by a psychologist called Rosenblatt who created the mathematical model of the perceptron and called it Mark I Perceptron. It was based on the McCulloch-Pitts model and was one of the first attempts to make a machine learn. The perceptron model also took a set of binary inputs which were then multiplied by weighted values(representing the synapse strength). Then a bias typically having a value of 1 was added(an offset that ensures that more functions are computable with the same input) and once again the output was set to 0 or 1 based on a threshold value. The input mentioned above is either the input data or other perceptrons’ outputs.

While the McCulloch-Pitts model was a groundbreaking research at that time, it lacked a good mechanism of learning which made it unsuitable for the area of AI.

Rosenblatt took inspiration from Donald Hebb’s thesis that learning occurred in the human brain through formation and change of synapses between neurons and then came up with the idea to replicate it in its own way. He thought of a perceptron which takes a training set of input-output examples and forms(learns) a function by changing the weights of the perceptron.

The implementation took four steps:

1. Initialize a perceptron with random weights
2. For each example in the training set, compute the output
3. If the output should have been 1 but was 0 instead, increase the weights with input 1 and vice-versa — if the output is 1 but should’ve been 0, decrease the weights with input of 1.
4. Repeat steps 2–4 for each example until the perceptron outputs correct values

This set of instructions are what modern perceptrons are based on. Due to significant increase of computing power however, we can now work with many more perceptrons grouped together forming a neural network.

However, they are not just randomly put in the network but are actually part of another building block — a layer.

## Layers

A layer is made of perceptrons which are linked to the perceptrons of the previous and the next layers if such do happen to exist. Every layer defines it’s own functionality and therefore serves its own purpose. Neural networks consist of an input layer(takes the initial data), an output layer(returns the overall result of the network), and hidden layers(one or many layers with different sizes(number of perceptrons) and functionality).

In order for the network to be able to learn and produce results each layer has to implement two functions — forward propagation and backward propagation(shortly backpropagation).

Imagine a train travelling between point A(input) and point B(output) which changes direction each time it reaches one of the points. The A to B course takes one or more samples from the input layer and carries it through the forward propagation functions of all hidden layers consecutively, until point B is reached(and a result is produced). Backpropagation is basically the same thing only in the opposite direction — the course takes the data through the backpropagation methods of all layers in a reverse order until it reaches point A. What differs the two courses though is what happens inside of these methods.

Forward propagation is only responsible for running the input through a function and return the result. No learning, only calculations. Backpropagation is a bit trickier because it is responsible for doing two things:

• Update the parameters of the layer in order to improve the accuracy of the forward propagation method.
• Implement the derivative of the forward propagation function and return the result.

So how and why does that happen exactly. The mystery unravels at point B — before the train changes direction and goes through the backpropagation of all the layers. In order to tune our model we need to answer two questions:

• How good the model’s result is compared with the actual output?
• How do we minimize this difference?

The process of answering the first question is known as calculating the error. To do that we use cost functions(synonyms with loss functions).

## Cost Functions

There are different types of cost functions that do completely different calculations but all serve the same purpose — to show our model how far it is from the actual result. Choosing a cost function is strictly tied to the purpose of the model but in this article we will only use one of the most popular variations — Mean Squared Error(MSE).

It is a pretty straightforward function — we sum the squares of the difference between the actual output and the model’s output and we calculate the mean. But to help our model implementing MSE only isn’t going to be of any significant help. We must implement its derivative as well.