Definition

artificial neuron

Contributor(s): Linda Tucci

An artificial neuron is a connection point in an artificial neural network. Artificial neural networks, like the human body's biological neural network, have a layered architecture and each network node (connection point) has the capability to process input and forward output to other nodes in the network. In both artificial and biological architectures, the nodes are called neurons and the connections are characterized by synaptic weights, which represent the significance of the connection. As new data is received and processed, the synaptic weights change and this is how learning occurs. 

Artificial neurons are modeled after the hierarchical arrangement of neurons in biological sensory systems. In the visual system, for example, light input passes through neurons in successive layers of the retina before being passed to neurons in the thalamus of the brain and then on to neurons in the brain's visual cortex. As the neurons pass signals through an increasing number of layers, the brain progressively extracts more information until it is confident it can identify what the person is seeing. In artificial intelligence, this fine tuning process is known as deep learning.

In both artificial and biological networks, when neurons process the input they receive, they decide whether the output should be passed on to the next layer as input. The decision of whether or not to send information on is called bias and it’s determined by an activation function built into the system. For example, an artificial neuron may only pass an output signal on to the next layer if its inputs (which are actually voltages) sum to a value above some particular threshold value. Because activation functions can either be linear or non-linear, neurons will often have a wide range of convergence and divergence. Divergence is the ability for one neuron to communicate with many other neurons in the network and convergence is the ability for one neuron to receive input from many other neurons in the network.

See also: convolutional neural nets 

This was last updated in May 2018

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