A Heterosynaptic Spiking Neural System for the Development of Autonomous Agents

Jimenez-Romero, Cristian (2017). A Heterosynaptic Spiking Neural System for the Development of Autonomous Agents. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000bef8


Artificial neural systems for computation were first proposed three quarters of a century ago and the concepts developed by the pioneers still shape the field today. The first generation of neural systems was developed in the nineteen forties in the context of analogue electronics and the theoretical research in logic and mathematics that led to the first digital computers in nineteen forties and fifties. The second generation of neural systems implemented on digital computers was born in the nineteen fifties and great progress was made in the subsequent half century with neural networks being applied to many problems in pattern recognition and machine learning. Through this history there has been an interplay between biologically inspired neural systems and their implementation by engineers on digital machines. This thesis concerns the third generation of neural networks, Spiking Neural Networks, which is making possible the creation of new kinds of brain inspired computing architectures that offer the potential to increase the level of realism and sophistication in terms of autonomous machine behaviour and cognitive computing. This thesis presents the development and demonstration of a new theoretical architecture for third generation neural systems, the Integrate-and-Fire based Spiking Neural Model with extended Neuro-modulated Spike Timing Dependent Plasticity capabilities. This proposed architecture overcomes the limitation of the homosynaptic architecture underlying existing implementations of spiking neural networks that it lacks a natural spike timing dependent plasticity regulation mechanism, and this results in ‘run away’ dynamics. To overcome this ad hoc procedures have been implemented to overcome the ‘run away’ dynamics that emerge from the use of spike timing dependent plasticity among other hebbian-based plasticity rules. The new heterosynaptic architecture presented, explicitly abstracts the modulation of complex biochemical mechanisms into a simplified mechanism that is suitable for the engineering of artificial systems with low computational complexity. Neurons work by receiving input signals from other neurons through synapses. The difference between homosynaptic and heterosynaptic plasticity is that, in the former the change in the properties of a synapse (e.g. synaptic efficacy) depends on the point to point activity in either of the sending and receiving neurons, in contrast for heterosynaptic plasticity the change in the properties of a synapse can be elicited by neurons that are not necessary presynaptic or postsynaptic to the synapse in question. The new architecture is tested by a number of implementations in simulated and real environments. This includes experiments with a simulation environment implemented in Netlogo, and an implementation using Lego Mindstorms as the physical robot platform. These experiments demonstrate the problems with the traditional Spike timing dependent plasticity homosynaptic architecture and how the new heterosynaptic approach can overcome them. It is concluded that the new theoretical architecture provides a natural, theoretically sound, and practical new direction for research into the role of modulatory neural systems applied to spiking neural networks.

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