Neural networks and applications

Traditionally, the term neural network had been used to refer to a network or circuit of biological neurons. The modern usage of the term often refers to artificial neural networks, which are composed of artificial neurons or nodes. Thus the term has two distinct usages:

  1. Biological neural networks are made up of real biological neurons that are connected or functionally related in the peripheral nervous system or the central nervous system. In the field of neuroscience, they are often identified as groups of neurons that perform a specific physiological function in laboratory analysis.
  2. Artificial neural networks are made up of interconnecting artificial neurons (programming constructs that mimic the properties of biological neurons). Artificial neural networks may either be used to gain an understanding of biological neural networks, or for solving artificial intelligence problems without necessarily creating a model of a real biological system. The real, biological nervous system is highly complex and includes some features that may seem superfluous based on an understanding of artificial networks.

In general a biological neural network is composed of a group or groups of chemically connected or functionally associated neurons. A single neuron may be connected to many other neurons and the total number of neurons and connections in a network may be extensive. Connections, called synapses, are usually formed from axons to dendrites, though dendrodendritic microcircuits[1] and other connections are possible. Apart from the electrical signaling, there are other forms of signaling that arise from neurotransmitter diffusion, which have an effect on electrical signaling. As such, neural networks are extremely complex.

Artificial intelligence and cognitive modeling try to simulate some properties of neural networks. While similar in their techniques, the former has the aim of solving particular tasks, while the latter aims to build mathematical models of biological neural systems.

In the artificial intelligence field, artificial neural networks have been applied successfully to speech recognition,image analysis and adaptive control, in order to construct software agents (in computer and video games) orautonomous robots. Most of the currently employed artificial neural networks for artificial intelligence are based on statistical estimation, optimization and control theory.

The cognitive modelling field involves the physical or mathematical modeling of the behaviour of neural systems; ranging from the individual neural level (e.g. modelling the spike response curves of neurons to a stimulus), through the neural cluster level (e.g. modelling the release and effects of dopamine in the basal ganglia) to the complete organism (e.g. behavioural modelling of the organism’s response to stimuli). Artificial intelligence, cognitive modelling, and neural networks are information processing paradigms inspired by the way biological neural systems process data.


The utility of artificial neural network models lies in the fact that they can be used to infer a function from observations and also to use it. This is particularly useful in applications where the complexity of the data or task makes the design of such a function by hand impractical.

Real life applications

The tasks to which artificial neural networks are applied tend to fall within the following broad categories:

  • Function approximation, or regression analysis, including time series prediction and modelling.
  • Classification, including pattern and sequence recognition, novelty detection and sequential decision making.
  • Data processing, including filtering, clustering, blind signal separation and compression.

Application areas include system identification and control (vehicle control, process control), game-playing and decision making (backgammon, chess, racing), pattern recognition (radar systems, face identification, object recognition, etc.), sequence recognition (gesture, speech, handwritten text recognition), medical diagnosis, financial applications, data mining (or knowledge discovery in databases, “KDD”), visualization and e-mail spamfiltering.

Use in Teaching Strategy

Neural Networks are being used to determine the significance of a seating arrangement in a classroom learning environment. In this application, neural networks have proven that there is a correlation between the location of high and low-performing students in the room and how well they do in the class. An article in Complexityexplains that when low-performing students are seated in the front, their chance to do better increases. The results of high-performing students who are seated in the back are not affected. In addition, when high-performing students are seated in the outer four corners, the performance of the class as a whole increases.

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