Neuronal Gaussian Process Regression

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Johannes Friedrich


The brain takes uncertainty intrinsic to our world into account. For example, associating spatial locations with rewards requires to predict not only expected reward at new spatial locations but also its uncertainty to avoid catastrophic events and forage safely. A powerful and flexible framework for nonlinear regression that takes uncertainty into account in a principled Bayesian manner is Gaussian process (GP) regression. Here I propose that the brain implements GP regression and present neural networks (NNs) for it. First layer neurons, e.g.\ hippocampal place cells, have tuning curves that correspond to evaluations of the GP kernel. Output neurons explicitly and distinctively encode predictive mean and variance, as observed in orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) for the case of reward prediction. Because the weights of a NN implementing exact GP regression do not arise with biological plasticity rules, I present approximations to obtain local (anti-)Hebbian synaptic learning rules. The resulting neuronal network approximates the full GP well compared to popular sparse GP approximations and achieves comparable predictive performance.