RNNaissance workshop
NIPS 2003 (1 day)

Organizers: Juergen Schmidhuber and Bram Bakker

Some pessimists claim that the best part of the workshop was the premiere of the song Bohebbian Rhapsody, performed for the first time at the workshop banquet in front of a crowd of 600 people or so. See also the Journal of Machine Learning Gossip.

RECURRENT NEURAL NETWORKS Recurrent neural networks (RNNs) are currently experiencing a second wave of attention.

The enthusiasm of the 1980s and early 90s was fueled by the obvious theoretical advantages of RNNs: unlike feedforward neural networks (FNNs) and SVMs, RNNs have an internal state which is essential for many temporal processing tasks. And unlike in HMMs those internal states can take on both discrete and continuous values.

Practitioners, however, had sobering experiences when they tried to apply RNNs to speech recognition, robot control, and other important problems that require sequential processing of information. The first RNNs simply did not work very well, and their functioning was poorly understood, since it is inherently more complex than the one of FNNs. The latter neatly fit into the framework of traditional statistics and information theory, while the analysis of RNNs requires additional insights, e.g., from theoretical computer science and algorithmic information theory.

Recent progress, however, has overcome major drawbacks of traditional RNNs. This progress has come in the form of new architectures, learning algorithms (including gradient-based and reinforcement learning and evolutionary algorithms), and also in a better understanding of RNN behavior, which is necessary to improve and apply RNNs. The new RNNs can learn to solve many previously unlearnable tasks, including control in partially observable environments, processing of symbolic data, music improvisation and composition, and aspects of speech recognition.

The most recent NIPS RNN workshop took place back in 1995 (Neural Networks for Signal Processing). Now, 8 years later, numerous new developments warrant another one.

RNN optimists are claiming that we are at the beginning of an RNNaissance, and that soon we will see more and more applications of the new RNNs. The pessimists are claiming otherwise. We expect a lively discussion between optimists and pessimists.


The workshop will start with a brief tutorial and provide a forum for discussing results and problems. We hope to examine the most promising future directions, the most important open issues, and new perspectives. Much time will be devoted to open discussion.


Researchers interested in adaptive sequence processing and control in partially observable environments.


Submit a short paper or extended abstract to Bram Bakker (bram@idsia.ch).

Tentative Schedule on Friday Dec 12 2003

Morning sessions: 7:30am-10:30am
  • 7:30am Opening remarks and introductory tutorial - B. Bakker
  • 8:00am coffee break
8:15am Session 1: Prediction and modeling
  • 8:15am Time-warped hierarchical structure in music and speech: A sequence prediction challenge - D. Eck (abstract)
  • 8:35am Recurrent neural networks - a focus on architectures - H.G. Zimmermann (abstract)
  • 8:55am Use of input-driven Hidden Markov Models with application to multi-site precipitation - S. Kirshner (abstract)
  • 9:15am Recurrent nets discover new motifs for protein classification - S. Hochreiter (abstract)
  • 9:35am coffee break
9:50am Session 2a: Control
  • 9:50am LSTM RNNs for model-free value function-based reinforcement learning in POMDPs - B. Bakker (abstract)
  • 10:10am Self-organization in a mirror neurons model using RNN robot experiments and their analysis - J. Tani (abstract)
Afternoon sessions: 4:00pm-7:00pm

4:00pm Session 2b: Control (continued)

  • 4:00pm Recurrent neural networks from learning attractor dynamics - S. Schaal (abstract)
  • 4:20pm Recurrent networks in engineering - P. Werbos (abstract)
  • 4:40pm coffee break
4:55pm Session 3: Learning algorithms and analysis
  • 4:55pm Non-gradient approaches to training recurrent neural networks - S. Kremer (abstract)
  • 5:15pm Incremental learning for RNNs: How does it affect performance and hidden unit activation? - S. Chalup (abstract)
  • 5:35pm Recurrent/recursive networks as non-autonomous dynamical systems - lessons learnt - P. Tino (abstract)
  • 5:55pm Why reinforcement learning requires recurrence: Examples from finance and competitive games - J. Moody (paper)
  • 6:15pm coffee break
6:25pm Panel discussion: Open issues and future directions in RNN research - B. Bakker (moderator), D. Eck, S. Hochreiter, J. Moody, S. Kremer, J. Tani, P. Tino, P. Werbos, H.G. Zimmermann