Short-term synaptic plasticity optimally models continuous environments

by   Timoleon Moraitis, et al.

Biological neural networks operate with extraordinary energy efficiency, owing to properties such as spike-based communication and synaptic plasticity driven by local activity. When emulated in silico, such properties also enable highly energy-efficient machine learning and inference systems. However, it is unclear whether these mechanisms only trade off performance for efficiency or rather they are partly responsible for the superiority of biological intelligence. Here, we first address this theoretically, proving rigorously that indeed the optimal prediction and inference of randomly but continuously transforming environments, a common natural setting, relies on adaptivity through short-term spike-timing dependent plasticity, a hallmark of biological neural networks. Secondly, we assess this theoretical optimality via simulations and also demonstrate improved artificial intelligence (AI). For the first time, a largely biologically modelled spiking neural network (SNN) surpasses state-of-the-art artificial neural networks (ANNs) in all relevant aspects, in an example task of recognizing video frames transformed by moving occlusions. The SNN recognizes the frames more accurately, even if trained on few, still, and untransformed images, with unsupervised and synaptically-local learning, binary spikes, and a single layer of neurons - all in contrast to the deep-learning-trained ANNs. These results indicate that on-line adaptivity and spike-based computation may optimize natural intelligence for natural environments. Moreover, this expands the goal of exploiting biological neuro-synaptic properties for AI, from mere efficiency, to computational supremacy altogether.


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