Neurons as Monte Carlo Samplers: Bayesian ´┐╝Inference and Learning in Spiking Networks

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 27 (NIPS 2014)

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Yanping Huang, Rajesh PN Rao


We propose a two-layer spiking network capable of performing approximate inference and learning for a hidden Markov model. The lower layer sensory neurons detect noisy measurements of hidden world states. The higher layer neurons with recurrent connections infer a posterior distribution over world states from spike trains generated by sensory neurons. We show how such a neuronal network with synaptic plasticity can implement a form of Bayesian inference similar to Monte Carlo methods such as particle filtering. Each spike in the population of inference neurons represents a sample of a particular hidden world state. The spiking activity across the neural population approximates the posterior distribution of hidden state. The model provides a functional explanation for the Poisson-like noise commonly observed in cortical responses. Uncertainties in spike times provide the necessary variability for sampling during inference. Unlike previous models, the hidden world state is not observed by the sensory neurons, and the temporal dynamics of the hidden state is unknown. We demonstrate how this network can sequentially learn the hidden Markov model using a spike-timing dependent Hebbian learning rule and achieve power-law convergence rates.