Beginner's Guide to Neural Networks Explanation
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


Welcome to your first step into understanding neural networks! This is a beginner-friendly guide that will walk you through what a neural network is, its basic structure, how it works, and so much more. So, buckle up and let's start this exciting journey into the world of neural networks. Remember, no question is too small and every detail matters when learning something new. So, ready to discover what is a neural network? A beginner's explanation starts now!

What are neural networks?

So, let's start at the very beginning: what is a neural network? In the simplest terms, a neural network is a set of algorithms that are designed to recognize patterns. Think of it like a friend who's really good at spotting shapes in clouds—except this friend is a computer, and the shapes are patterns in data.

Neural networks are modeled loosely after the human brain, hence the name. The human brain has billions of neurons, and these neurons are interconnected. When you learn something new, these connections get stronger. Neural networks work in a somewhat similar way.

  • Algorithms: These are just a fancy word for a set of rules or instructions that a computer follows. In the case of neural networks, these algorithms help in recognizing patterns.
  • Pattern Recognition: This is the ability to detect arrangements of characteristics or data that yield information about a given system or data set. In simpler terms, it's like finding the common thread among different pieces of information.

So, in essence, a neural network takes in data, follows a set of instructions (algorithms), and finds patterns in that data—just like you might find patterns in a crossword puzzle or a game of sudoku. The only difference is that a neural network does it on a much larger and more complex scale.

Now that we know what a neural network is—a beginner's explanation, of course—let's delve into the basic structure of neural networks. Because just like a building, understanding the structure is key to understanding how the whole thing works.

Basic structure of neural networks

Alright, let's look at the structure of a neural network. Just as a house is made up of bricks, a neural network is made up of what we call "neurons" or "nodes". These nodes are organized into layers. There are usually three types of layers:

  • Input Layer: This is the starting point. Imagine it like the front door of a house. It's where the neural network receives all the data it needs to process.
  • Hidden Layers: These are sort of like the rooms inside the house. The data from the input layer is processed in these hidden layers. There can be one or many hidden layers depending on the complexity of the problem at hand.
  • Output Layer: This is the end goal, like the back door of a house. It's where we get the final processed data or the result of the pattern recognition.

Now, remember when we said that neural networks are loosely modeled after the human brain? Just like neurons in our brain are connected, the nodes in these layers are also connected. These connections are called 'weights'. The stronger the weight, the more influence one node has on another.

So, basically, data enters the neural network through the input layer. It then travels through the hidden layers—getting processed along the way—until it finally reaches the output layer. The output layer then gives us the final result. This is similar to how, in a game of telephone, a message is passed along a chain of people until it reaches the end.

And that concludes our beginner's tour of the basic structure of neural networks. Next up, we'll explore how neural networks work.

How neural networks work

Now that we have a rough idea about the structure of neural networks, let's see how these complex systems work. You might be wondering, "what is a neural network doing exactly?" Well, it's a bit like trying to solve a maze. The neural network is trying to find the best path from the input to the output. And just as you might hit a few dead ends before you find the correct path in a maze, a neural network also learns from its mistakes.

So, how does this learning process happen? Let's break it down:

  1. Feedforward: This is the first step. The network takes the input data, does some calculations in the hidden layers, and produces an initial output. This is like making a first guess at solving a problem.
  2. Backpropagation: In this step, the network checks how close its initial output was to the expected output. It's like checking your work in math class. Any errors are then sent back from the output layer to the input layer. This is where the network learns from its mistakes.
  3. Weight Adjustment: The network then makes adjustments to the weights of the connections between nodes based on the errors found in the backpropagation step. It's like tweaking a recipe after tasting the dish and finding it needs more salt.
  4. Iteration: The network repeats the feedforward, backpropagation, and weight adjustment steps many times—each time learning and improving—until it can produce the correct output consistently. It's like practicing a song on the piano over and over until you can play it perfectly.

And voila! That's a simplified explanation of how neural networks work. But remember, just like learning to solve a maze or play a song, a neural network needs time and lots of data to learn effectively. In the next section, we'll explore the different types of neural networks.

Types of neural networks

Just like there are different types of cars for different needs—like a compact car for zipping around the city or a pickup truck for hauling heavy loads—there are different types of neural networks for different tasks. Let's take a look at a few of them:

  1. Feedforward Neural Networks (FNN): These are the simplest type of neural network. Think of them as the bicycle of neural networks—straightforward and easy to understand. In FNN, information moves in only one direction, from the input layer through the hidden layers to the output layer.
  2. Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN): These are like the SUVs of neural networks. They're robust and versatile, especially when it comes to image and video processing tasks. CNNs are designed to automatically and adaptively learn spatial hierarchies of features.
  3. Recurrent Neural Networks (RNN): If neural networks were a band, RNNs would be the drummer. They're great at dealing with sequences and time series data, like the rhythm of a song. They have loops that allow information to be passed from one step in the network to the next.
  4. Long Short Term Memory Networks (LSTM): This is a special type of RNN, like a drummer who also sings. LSTM is designed to avoid the long-term dependency problem, remembering information for longer periods of time, which makes it perfect for tasks involving long sequences of data, such as speech recognition.

These are just a few examples of the different types of neural networks out there. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses, and is better suited to some tasks than others. But no matter the type, all neural networks function on the same basic principles we discussed in the previous section. So, are you ready to explore where these amazing tools are used? Let's dive into the applications of neural networks in the next section!

Applications of neural networks

Neural networks are like the Swiss Army knives of the digital world. They have a tool—or application—for just about everything. Let's take a look at some of the most intriguing places you'll find neural networks in action:

  1. Image Recognition: Remember when you uploaded your vacation photos online, and the service automatically recognized and tagged your friends? That's a neural network. They're excellent at identifying patterns and features in images, making them ideal for tasks like facial recognition and object detection.
  2. Speech Recognition: If you've ever asked your phone for the nearest pizza place, you've interacted with a neural network. These networks can understand and respond to spoken language, powering voice-activated assistants on your devices.
  3. Medical Diagnosis: Neural networks are even saving lives. They can analyze medical images to detect diseases, like cancer, sometimes even before symptoms appear. Talk about a superhero!
  4. Financial Market Predictions: Just like weather forecasters predict rain or shine, neural networks can predict rises and falls in the stock market. They analyze past trends and use that information to make educated guesses about future stock behavior.
  5. Self-Driving Cars: Ever dreamed of taking a nap while your car drives you to work? Neural networks are making that dream a reality. They help self-driving cars interpret all the visual data around them, making decisions like when to speed up, slow down, or swerve to avoid a squirrel.

From tagging photos to diagnosing diseases, neural networks are truly changing the world around us. And this is just the tip of the digital iceberg. There are countless other applications out there, and new ones being dreamed up every day. So, what's next? How about we check out how neural networks are shaping the future of artificial intelligence?

Neural networks in artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) and neural networks go together like peanut butter and jelly. But what is a neural network's role in AI? It's like the brain behind the operation—quite literally!

Neural networks provide the "thinking" power for AI systems. Just like your brain learns from experience, neural networks learn from data. They take in a bunch of data—like pictures of cats and dogs—and learn how to tell the difference between the two. This ability to learn and make decisions is what gives AI its intelligence.

Think about a smart home system that adjusts the temperature based on your preferences, or a music streaming service that knows your favorite bands before you do. These are examples of AI systems powered by neural networks. They're quietly learning from your behavior, making predictions, and making decisions—all to make your life a little bit easier.

However, it's not all about convenience. Neural networks in AI are also tackling some of the world's biggest challenges. They're helping scientists understand climate change, assisting doctors in diagnosing diseases, and even helping farmers grow more food. It's clear that, when it comes to AI, neural networks are the heroes behind the scenes.

But, like any good hero, neural networks face their own set of challenges. Let's explore some of these hurdles and how experts are working to overcome them.

Challenges and solutions in neural networks

Neural networks, like any groundbreaking technology, come with their own set of challenges. One of the most common ones is the need for vast amounts of data to learn effectively. Imagine trying to learn a new language with just a few words—it's kind of tricky, right?

Similarly, neural networks need lots of data to understand patterns and make accurate predictions. But gathering this much data can be time-consuming, expensive, and even ethically complicated. So, what's the solution?

Enter transfer learning—a clever technique that lets a neural network use knowledge it gained solving one problem to solve another one. It's like if you learned how to play the guitar, and then used those skills to learn the ukulele. You wouldn't be starting from scratch—instead, you'd transfer your understanding of one instrument to another.

Another challenge is the so-called "black box" problem. This is when a neural network makes a decision, but it's difficult for us humans to understand why or how it made that choice. It's like a magician who won't reveal his secrets—only in this case, the magician is a neural network, and the secret is an important decision.

Interpretability methods are one way to solve this problem. These techniques aim to make neural network decisions more understandable to us humans. It’s like having a translator who can explain the magician’s tricks in a language we can understand.

Overcoming these challenges requires a lot of hard work and creativity. But, as we've seen, neural networks hold immense promise—from making our everyday lives easier to tackling global problems. So, it's safe to say that the future of neural networks looks pretty exciting!

Future of Neural Networks

So, what does the future have in store for neural networks? Well, if the progress we've seen so far is any indication, we're in for some pretty amazing things.

One area where we may see significant advancements is in personalized recommendations. Imagine your favorite music app not just knowing what songs you like, but also when and why you like to listen to them. That could mean the end of those Monday morning blues, as your playlist picks up on your mood and plays exactly what you need to hear. That's the potential power of neural networks!

Another exciting development could be in the realm of healthcare. Picture a world where doctors can predict diseases before they happen, simply by feeding patient data into a neural network. This could revolutionize the way we approach healthcare, shifting the focus from treatment to prevention.

Neural networks may also play a significant role in tackling climate change. They could help us optimize renewable energy sources, predict weather patterns for better disaster management, and even model the impact of various climate policies, aiding in more informed decision making.

Of course, these are just speculations. The truth is, the possibilities with neural networks are almost limitless. As we continue to refine and advance this technology, who knows what incredible innovations we'll see? So, the next time someone asks you "What is a neural network? A beginner's explanation," you can tell them it's not just a cutting-edge technology—it's a glimpse into the future!

If you're just getting started with neural networks and want to dive deeper into the topic, check out the workshop 'Midjourney AI: Beginners Crash Course' by Ansh Mehra. This workshop will provide you with a solid foundation to understand and explore neural networks further, helping you grasp the essentials of artificial intelligence.