Researchers have shown that it is possible to train artificial neural networks directly on an optical chip. The significant breakthrough demonstrates that an optical circuit can perform a critical function of an electronics-based artificial neural network and could lead to less expensive, faster and more energy efficient ways to perform complex tasks such as speech or image recognition.
“Using an optical chip to perform neural network computations more efficiently than is possible with digital computers could allow more complex problems to be solved,” said research team leader Shanhui Fan of Stanford University. “This would enhance the capability of artificial neural networks to perform tasks required for self-driving cars or to formulate an appropriate response to a spoken question, for example. It could also improve our lives in ways we can’t imagine now.”
An artificial neural network is a type of artificial intelligence that uses connected units to process information in a manner similar to the way the brain processes information. Using these networks to perform a complex task, for instance, voice recognition requires the critical step of training the algorithms to categorize inputs, such as different words.
Although optical artificial neural networks were recently demonstrated experimentally, the training step was performed using a model on a traditional digital computer and the final settings were then imported into the optical circuit. In Optica, The Optical Society’s journal for high impact research, Stanford University researchers report a method for training these networks directly in the device by implementing an optical analog of the ‘backpropagation’ algorithm, which is the standard way to train conventional neural networks.
“Using a physical device rather than a computer model for training makes the process more accurate,” said Tyler W. Hughes, first author of the paper. “Also, because the training step is a very computationally expensive part of the implementation of the neural network, performing this step optically is key to improving the computational efficiency, speed and power consumption of artificial networks.”
A light-based network
Although neural network processing is typically performed using a traditional computer, there are significant efforts to design hardware optimized specifically for neural network computing. Optics-based devices are of great interest because they can perform computations in parallel while using less energy than electronic devices.
thumbnail courtesy of phys.org