Training recurrent networks to generate hypotheses about how the brain solves hard navigation problems

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 30 (NIPS 2017)

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Ingmar Kanitscheider, Ila Fiete


Self-localization during navigation with noisy sensors in an ambiguous world is computationally challenging, yet animals and humans excel at it. In robotics, {\em Simultaneous Location and Mapping} (SLAM) algorithms solve this problem through joint sequential probabilistic inference of their own coordinates and those of external spatial landmarks. We generate the first neural solution to the SLAM problem by training recurrent LSTM networks to perform a set of hard 2D navigation tasks that require generalization to completely novel trajectories and environments. Our goal is to make sense of how the diverse phenomenology in the brain's spatial navigation circuits is related to their function. We show that the hidden unit representations exhibit several key properties of hippocampal place cells, including stable tuning curves that remap between environments. Our result is also a proof of concept for end-to-end-learning of a SLAM algorithm using recurrent networks, and a demonstration of why this approach may have some advantages for robotic SLAM.