Keywords: predictive coding, equilibrium propagation, contrastive hebbian learning, backprop, machine learning, computational neuroscience
TL;DR: We unify and provide a single limit for many papers in the literature concerning when energy based models approximate backdrop, typically in the context of biologically plausible learning algorithms
Abstract: How the brain performs credit assignment is a fundamental unsolved problem in neuroscience. Many `biologically plausible' algorithms have been proposed, which compute gradients that approximate those computed by backpropagation (BP), and which operate in ways that more closely satisfy the constraints imposed by neural circuitry. Many such algorithms utilize the framework of energy-based models (EBMs), in which all free variables in the model are optimized to minimize a global energy function. However, in the literature, these algorithms exist in isolation and no unified theory exists linking them together. Here, we provide a comprehensive theory of the conditions under which EBMs can approximate BP, which lets us unify many of the BP approximation results in the literature (namely, predictive coding, equilibrium propagation, and contrastive Hebbian learning) and demonstrate that their approximation to BP arises from a simple and general mathematical property of EBMs at free-phase equilibrium. This property can then be exploited in different ways with different energy functions, and these specific choices yield a family of BP-approximating algorithms, which both includes the known results in the literature and can be used to derive new ones.
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