Using neural nets to recognize handwritten digits

Michael Nielsen, More, Feb 20, 2014
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I've mentioned deep learning a number of times in the past. It's time to pay attention to this. Michael Nielsen has made available the first chapter of his recent book on deep learning (he adds: "The book’s landing page gives a broader view on the book. And I’ve written a more in-depth discussion of the philosophy behind the book").

So what is deep learning? If you use neural networks to recognize patterns - being able to recognize, for example, that a handwritten number is a '4' and not a '5' - the usual way is to create a large set of correctly identified hand-written numbers and use this to 'train' the neural network (using a method called back-propagation, for example). But in deep learning, you are presented with the handwritten numbers, and the neural network has to determine for itself that there is such a thing as a '4' and then recognize future instances of it.

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