Grok all the things

grok (v): to understand (something) intuitively.

Artificial Neural Networks

🙇‍♀️  Students & Apprentices

Greetings fellow learners! Today, we're going to explore the wondrous world of artificial neural networks (ANNs). As an engineer, I find these computational marvels beyond fascinating! Are you ready to dive into one of the most intriguing and powerful tools in modern technology? Let's get started!

The Intriguing Origins 🧠

Before we delve into the nitty-gritty of ANNs, it's always exciting to ponder about their origins. Like a sci-fi story come true, ANNs draw their inspiration directly from our own brains! In 1943, Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts developed the first mathematical model of a biological neuron, creating the foundation for ANNs. Fast forward to today, ANNs have become synonymous with machine learning and intelligent systems.

The Building Blocks: Neurons and Layers 🏗️

Now that you're feeling inspired, let's talk about what makes up an artificial neural network.

Neurons: The Heart of the Network ❤️

Neurons are the fundamental units that make up an ANN. Each neuron receives input data from other neurons or directly from the input features, processes that input data with an activation function (such as ReLU, Sigmoid, or Tanh), and passes the output to other connected neurons. Essentially, they serve as little computational wizards!

Here's a simple example of a neuron in Python:

import numpy as np

def sigmoid(x):
    return 1/(1 + np.exp(-x))

inputs = [1, 5, 3]
weights = [0.2, 0.5, -0.1]
bias = 0.1

output = sigmoid(, weights) + bias)
print(output)  # Output: 0.865

In this example, we have a single neuron with three inputs. We apply the sigmoid activation function and print out the output. Easy peasy!

Layers: Organizing Neurons 📚

Neurons in a network are organized into layers, which play crucial roles in processing the input data. There are three primary types of layers:

  1. Input Layer: This layer receives all the input features of the data and sends them to the next layer.

  2. Hidden Layer(s): The neurons in these layers process the input data and learn complex features that aid in decision-making. The number of hidden layers and their size depend on the complexity of the problem.

  3. Output Layer: This layer generates the final output, which can be a simple regression value or a probability distribution for classification tasks.

Here's an illustration of a simple ANN with three layers:

    Input Layer     Hidden Layer     Output Layer
    ─────────────   ────────────    ─────────────
   | O | O | O |   | O | O | O |   | O | O | O |
    ─────────────   ────────────    ─────────────

Training an ANN: Backpropagation and Gradient Descent 🏋️‍♀️

For an ANN to truly "grok" a problem, it must learn from cases where it succeeded and failed in the past. This learning process is called "training." Sounds like us humans learning from our mistakes, right?

To train an ANN, we use two key ingredients: backpropagation and gradient descent.

Backpropagation: Learning from Errors 😔

The backpropagation algorithm adjusts the weights in the network to minimize the error between the predicted output and the actual output. It does this by calculating the error gradient for each weight and updating the weights accordingly.

Here's a simplistic explanation of backpropagation:

  1. Calculate the error between the predicted output and the actual output.
  2. Compute the gradient of that error with respect to every weight in the network (using chain rule for partial derivatives).
  3. Update the weights in the opposite direction of the gradient.

Gradient Descent: Finding the Optimal Weights 🎯

Gradient descent is an optimization algorithm that finds the optimal weights for minimizing the error in the network. This is achieved by iteratively updating the weights in small steps, following the direction of the error gradient.

Imagine you're blindfolded and trying to get to the lowest point of a valley. You'll rely on your senses to feel which direction is going downhill and take steps in that direction. Gradient descent works similarly to guide ANNs in optimizing their weights.

ANN Applications: Unleashing their Power 🚀

ANNs are incredibly versatile and have been utilized in numerous applications:

  1. Image Recognition: ANNs have proven their prowess in tasks like object detection, facial recognition, and handwriting recognition (remember the early days of CAPTCHAs?).

  2. Natural Language Processing: ANNs have made astonishing strides in language translation, sentiment analysis, and chatbots that can hold their own in a conversation.

  3. Autonomous Vehicles: Self-driving cars use ANNs to make decisions and navigate complex environments.

  4. Game Playing: ANNs can learn to master games such as Go, Chess, and Poker, even outperforming human experts!

And these are just the tip of the iceberg!

Wrapping Up: The Future of ANNs 🌅

As we approach the end of our journey, let's ponder about the future of ANNs. With the rapid development in machine learning and hardware, ANNs are growing more capable and complex. They continually extend the frontiers of what is considered possible, leaving us in awe and yearning to explore even further.

Who knows what amazing feats ANNs will accomplish in the years to come? Until then, let's continue to learn, marvel, and "grok" this wondrous world of artificial neural networks together! is a collection of articles on a variety of technology and programming articles assembled by James Padolsey. Enjoy! And please share! And if you feel like you can donate here so I can create more free content for you.