Improved Expressivity Through Dendritic Neural Networks

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 31 (NeurIPS 2018)

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Xundong Wu, Xiangwen Liu, Wei Li, Qing Wu


A typical biological neuron, such as a pyramidal neuron of the neocortex, receives thousands of afferent synaptic inputs on its dendrite tree and sends the efferent axonal output downstream. In typical artificial neural networks, dendrite trees are modeled as linear structures that funnel weighted synaptic inputs to the cell bodies. However, numerous experimental and theoretical studies have shown that dendritic arbors are far more than simple linear accumulators. That is, synaptic inputs can actively modulate their neighboring synaptic activities; therefore, the dendritic structures are highly nonlinear. In this study, we model such local nonlinearity of dendritic trees with our dendritic neural network (DENN) structure and apply this structure to typical machine learning tasks. Equipped with localized nonlinearities, DENNs can attain greater model expressivity than regular neural networks while maintaining efficient network inference. Such strength is evidenced by the increased fitting power when we train DENNs with supervised machine learning tasks. We also empirically show that the locality structure can improve the generalization performance of DENNs, as exemplified by DENNs outranking naive deep neural network architectures when tested on 121 classification tasks from the UCI machine learning repository.