Potential Synapses. Thought of the Day 52.0

For a neuron to recognize a pattern of activity it requires a set of co-located synapses (typically fifteen to twenty) that connect to a subset of the cells that are active in the pattern to be recognized. Learning to recognize a new pattern is accomplished by the formation of a set of new synapses collocated on a dendritic segment.

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Figure: Learning by growing new synapses. Learning in an HTM neuron is modeled by the growth of new synapses from a set of potential synapses. A “permanence” value is assigned to each potential synapse and represents the growth of the synapse. Learning occurs by incrementing or decrementing permanence values. The synapse weight is a binary value set to 1 if the permanence is above a threshold.

Figure shows how we model the formation of new synapses in a simulated Hierarchical Temporal Memory (HTM) neuron. For each dendritic segment we maintain a set of “potential” synapses between the dendritic segment and other cells in the network that could potentially form a synapse with the segment. The number of potential synapses is larger than the number of actual synapses. We assign each potential synapse a scalar value called “permanence” which represents stages of growth of the synapse. A permanence value close to zero represents an axon and dendrite with the potential to form a synapse but that have not commenced growing one. A 1.0 permanence value represents an axon and dendrite with a large fully formed synapse.

The permanence value is incremented and decremented using a Hebbian-like rule. If the permanence value exceeds a threshold, such as 0.3, then the weight of the synapse is 1, if the permanence value is at or below the threshold then the weight of the synapse is 0. The threshold represents the establishment of a synapse, albeit one that could easily disappear. A synapse with a permanence value of 1.0 has the same effect as a synapse with a permanence value at threshold but is not as easily forgotten. Using a scalar permanence value enables on-line learning in the presence of noise. A previously unseen input pattern could be noise or it could be the start of a new trend that will repeat in the future. By growing new synapses, the network can start to learn a new pattern when it is first encountered, but only act differently after several presentations of the new pattern. Increasing permanence beyond the threshold means that patterns experienced more than others will take longer to forget.

HTM neurons and HTM networks rely on distributed patterns of cell activity, thus the activation strength of any one neuron or synapse is not very important. Therefore, in HTM simulations we model neuron activations and synapse weights with binary states. Additionally, it is well known that biological synapses are stochastic, so a neocortical theory cannot require precision of synaptic efficacy. Although scalar states and weights might improve performance, they are not required from a theoretical point of view.

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