March 2012: first feedforward neural net to win an image segmentation competition

Jürgen Schmidhuber (2012, updated 2022 for 10th anniversary)
Pronounce: You_again Shmidhoobuh
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2022: 10th anniversary: in March 2012, our feedforward neural network was the first to win an image segmentation competition: the ISBI Challenge

In 2022, we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of a breakthrough in automatic image segmentation for computer vision. In March 2012, when compute was roughly 100 times more expensive than in 2022, our Deep Learning Neural Network[DL1-6a] (NN), called the DanNet,[DAN,DAN1][GPUCNN1-3,5-8] won the ISBI'12 Challenge on segmenting images of neuronal structures,[ISBI12] through the work of my postdoc Dan Claudiu Ciresan and Alessandro Giusti. A paper on this was published at NeurIPS 2012.[GPUCNN2a] This approach has revolutionized the field—today, everybody is using it for all kinds of image segmentation.

To our knowledge, this was the first official image segmentation competition won by a deep feedforward NN. It should be mentioned, however, that our Long Short-Term Memory recurrent NNs[LSTM1-6] already performed simultaneous segmentation and recognition in 2009 when they became the first deep learners to win official international pattern recognition contests (in connected handwriting at ICDAR 2009[LSTM6a]).

Brain image segmentation has become very relevant for the huge brain projects in Europe and the US. Given electron microscopy images of stacks of thin slices of animal brains, the goal is to build a detailed 3D model of the brain's neurons and dendrites. But human experts need many hours and days and weeks to annotate the images: Which parts depict neuronal membranes? Which parts are irrelevant background? This needs to be automated. Our DanNet[DAN,DAN1][GPUCNN1-3,5-8] learned to solve this task through experience with many training images. It won the contest on all three evaluation metrics by a large margin, with superhuman performance in terms of pixel error. (Ranks 2-6 for researchers at ETHZ, MIT, CMU, Harvard.)

It is ironic that artificial NNs (ANNs) can help to better understand biological NNs (BNNs). And in more than one way—on my 2013 lecture tour I kept trying to convince neuroscientists that feature detectors invented by our deep visual ANNs are highly predictive of what they will find in BNNs once they have figured out how to measure synapse strengths. While the visual cortex of BNNs may use a quite different learning algorithm, its objective function to be minimized must be similar to the one of our ANNs.

How did DanNet learn to segment images? Pure supervised gradient descent (the efficient reverse mode backpropagation of 1970[BP1-5]) was applied[CNN1a] to our special neural architecture[GPUCNN1-3,5-8][DAN] consisting of deep and wide GPU-based[GPUNN][MLP1-2] Multi-Column Max-Pooling Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs)[CNN1-4] with alternating weight-sharing convolutional layers[CNN1] and max-pooling layers[CNN3] topped by fully connected layers.[DEEP1-2][DL1-2] This architecture is biologically rather plausible, inspired by early neuroscience-related work.[CNN1] We also used a few additional tricks[GPUCNN1-3,5-8][DAN] but no unsupervised pre-training.[UN,UN1-2][MLP1-2]

The brain image segmentation contest was actually one of four computer vision competitions in a row won by our DanNet since 2011. For a while, it enjoyed a monopoly: from 2011 to 2012 it won every contest it entered. It was the first deep CNN to win: a Chinese handwriting contest (ICDAR, May 2011), a traffic sign recognition contest (IJCNN, Aug 2011), an image segmentation contest (ISBI, March 2012), and finally a contest on object detection in large images (ICPR, Sept 2012). (All before the similar AlexNet and VGG Net[GPUCNN4,9] won contests, too.)

Already in 2011, DanNet was the first system to achieve human-competitive or even superhuman pattern recognition performance[GPUCNN1-3,5-8][DAN,DAN1] in a computer vision contest. Since 2011, this has attracted enormous interest from industry. Many startups as well as leading IT companies and research labs are now using them, too.[DEC]

When we started deep learning research over 3 decades ago,[UN,UN1-2] slow computers forced us to focus on toy applications. By 2011, however, our deep NNs learned to rival human pattern recognisers in important domains. And this is just the beginning - each decade we are gaining another factor of 100 in terms of raw computational power per cent.


Creative Commons License Credit for parts of the top image: Daniel Berger, 2012. The contents of this article may be used for educational and non-commercial purposes, including articles for Wikipedia and similar sites. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


[BPA] H. J. Kelley. Gradient Theory of Optimal Flight Paths. ARS Journal, Vol. 30, No. 10, pp. 947-954, 1960. Precursor of modern backpropagation.[BP1-4]

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[BPC] S. E. Dreyfus. The numerical solution of variational problems. Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applications, 5(1): 30-45, 1962.

[BP1] S. Linnainmaa. The representation of the cumulative rounding error of an algorithm as a Taylor expansion of the local rounding errors. Master's Thesis (in Finnish), Univ. Helsinki, 1970. See chapters 6-7 and FORTRAN code on pages 58-60. PDF. See also BIT 16, 146-160, 1976. Link. The first publication on "modern" backpropagation, also known as the reverse mode of automatic differentiation.

[BP2] P. J. Werbos. Applications of advances in nonlinear sensitivity analysis. In R. Drenick, F. Kozin, (eds): System Modeling and Optimization: Proc. IFIP, Springer, 1982. PDF. First application of backpropagation[BP1] to NNs (concretizing thoughts in his 1974 thesis).

[BP4] J. Schmidhuber (AI Blog, 2014; updated 2020). Who invented backpropagation? More.[DL2]

[BP5] A. Griewank (2012). Who invented the reverse mode of differentiation? Documenta Mathematica, Extra Volume ISMP (2012): 389-400.

[CNN1] K. Fukushima: Neural network model for a mechanism of pattern recognition unaffected by shift in position—Neocognitron. Trans. IECE, vol. J62-A, no. 10, pp. 658-665, 1979. The first deep convolutional neural network architecture, with alternating convolutional layers and downsampling layers. In Japanese. English version: [CNN1+]. More in Scholarpedia.

[CNN1+] K. Fukushima: Neocognitron: a self-organizing neural network model for a mechanism of pattern recognition unaffected by shift in position. Biological Cybernetics, vol. 36, no. 4, pp. 193-202 (April 1980). Link.

[CNN1a] A. Waibel. Phoneme Recognition Using Time-Delay Neural Networks. Meeting of IEICE, Tokyo, Japan, 1987. First application of backpropagation[BP1][BP2] and weight-sharing to a convolutional architecture.

[CNN1b] A. Waibel, T. Hanazawa, G. Hinton, K. Shikano and K. J. Lang. Phoneme recognition using time-delay neural networks. IEEE Transactions on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing, vol. 37, no. 3, pp. 328-339, March 1989.

[CNN1c] Bower Award Ceremony 2021: Jürgen Schmidhuber lauds Kunihiko Fukushima. YouTube video, 2021.

[CNN2] Y. LeCun, B. Boser, J. S. Denker, D. Henderson, R. E. Howard, W. Hubbard, L. D. Jackel: Backpropagation Applied to Handwritten Zip Code Recognition, Neural Computation, 1(4):541-551, 1989. PDF.

[CNN3] Weng, J., Ahuja, N., and Huang, T. S. (1993). Learning recognition and segmentation of 3-D objects from 2-D images. Proc. 4th Intl. Conf. Computer Vision, Berlin, Germany, pp. 121-128. A CNN whose downsampling layers use Max-Pooling (which has become very popular) instead of Fukushima's Spatial Averaging.[CNN1]

[CNN4] M. A. Ranzato, Y. LeCun: A Sparse and Locally Shift Invariant Feature Extractor Applied to Document Images. Proc. ICDAR, 2007

[CNN4a] D. Scherer, A. Mueller, S. Behnke. Evaluation of pooling operations in convolutional architectures for object recognition. In Proc. ICANN 2010.

[DAN] J. Schmidhuber (AI Blog, 2021). 10-year anniversary. In 2011, DanNet triggered the deep convolutional neural network (CNN) revolution. Named after my outstanding postdoc Dan Ciresan, it was the first deep and fast CNN to win international computer vision contests, and had a temporary monopoly on winning them, driven by a very fast implementation based on graphics processing units (GPUs). 1st superhuman result in 2011.[DAN1] Now everybody is using this approach.

[DAN1] J. Schmidhuber (AI Blog, 2011; updated 2021 for 10th birthday of DanNet): First superhuman visual pattern recognition. At the IJCNN 2011 computer vision competition in Silicon Valley, our artificial neural network called DanNet performed twice better than humans, three times better than the closest artificial competitor, and six times better than the best non-neural method.

[DEC] J. Schmidhuber (AI Blog, 02/20/2020, revised 2021). The 2010s: Our Decade of Deep Learning / Outlook on the 2020s. The recent decade's most important developments and industrial applications based on our AI, with an outlook on the 2020s, also addressing privacy and data markets.

[DEEP1] Ivakhnenko, A. G. and Lapa, V. G. (1965). Cybernetic Predicting Devices. CCM Information Corporation. First working Deep Learners with many layers, learning internal representations.

[DEEP1a] Ivakhnenko, Alexey Grigorevich. The group method of data of handling; a rival of the method of stochastic approximation. Soviet Automatic Control 13 (1968): 43-55.

[DEEP2] Ivakhnenko, A. G. (1971). Polynomial theory of complex systems. IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, (4):364-378.

[DL1] J. Schmidhuber, 2015. Deep learning in neural networks: An overview. Neural Networks, 61, 85-117. More. Got the first Best Paper Award ever issued by the journal Neural Networks, founded in 1988.

[DL2] J. Schmidhuber, 2015. Deep Learning. Scholarpedia, 10(11):32832.

[DL4] J. Schmidhuber (AI Blog, 2017). Our impact on the world's most valuable public companies: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon... By 2015-17, neural nets developed in my labs were on over 3 billion devices such as smartphones, and used many billions of times per day, consuming a significant fraction of the world's compute. Examples: greatly improved (CTC-based) speech recognition on all Android phones, greatly improved machine translation through Google Translate and Facebook (over 4 billion LSTM-based translations per day), Apple's Siri and Quicktype on all iPhones, the answers of Amazon's Alexa, etc. Google's 2019 on-device speech recognition (on the phone, not the server) is still based on LSTM.

[DL6] F. Gomez and J. Schmidhuber. Co-evolving recurrent neurons learn deep memory POMDPs. In Proc. GECCO'05, Washington, D. C., pp. 1795-1802, ACM Press, New York, NY, USA, 2005. PDF.

[DL6a] J. Schmidhuber (AI Blog, Nov 2020). 15-year anniversary: 1st paper with "learn deep" in the title (2005). Our deep reinforcement learning & neuroevolution solved problems of depth 1000 and more.[DL6] Soon after its publication, everybody started talking about "deep learning." Causality or correlation?

[GPUNN] Oh, K.-S. and Jung, K. (2004). GPU implementation of neural networks. Pattern Recognition, 37(6):1311-1314. Speeding up traditional NNs on GPU by a factor of 20.

[GPUCNN] K. Chellapilla, S. Puri, P. Simard. High performance convolutional neural networks for document processing. International Workshop on Frontiers in Handwriting Recognition, 2006. Speeding up shallow CNNs on GPU by a factor of 4.

[GPUCNN1] D. C. Ciresan, U. Meier, J. Masci, L. M. Gambardella, J. Schmidhuber. Flexible, High Performance Convolutional Neural Networks for Image Classification. International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI-2011, Barcelona), 2011. PDF. ArXiv preprint. Speeding up deep CNNs on GPU by a factor of 60. Used to win four important computer vision competitions 2011-2012 before others won any with similar approaches.

[GPUCNN2] D. C. Ciresan, U. Meier, J. Masci, J. Schmidhuber. A Committee of Neural Networks for Traffic Sign Classification. International Joint Conference on Neural Networks (IJCNN-2011, San Francisco), 2011. PDF. HTML overview. First superhuman performance in a computer vision contest, with half the error rate of humans, and one third the error rate of the closest competitor.[DAN1] This led to massive interest from industry.

[GPUCNN2a] D. Ciresan, A. Giusti, L. Gambardella, J. Schmidhuber. Deep Neural Networks Segment Neuronal Membranes in Electron Microscopy Images. In Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS 2012), Lake Tahoe, 2012. PDF. First feedforward deep learner to win an image segmentation competition.

[GPUCNN3] D. C. Ciresan, U. Meier, J. Schmidhuber. Multi-column Deep Neural Networks for Image Classification. Proc. IEEE Conf. on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition CVPR 2012, p 3642-3649, July 2012. PDF. Longer TR of Feb 2012: arXiv:1202.2745v1 [cs.CV]. More.

[GPUCNN4] A. Krizhevsky, I. Sutskever, G. E. Hinton. ImageNet Classification with Deep Convolutional Neural Networks. NIPS 25, MIT Press, Dec 2012. PDF.

[GPUCNN5] J. Schmidhuber (AI Blog, 2017; updated 2021 for 10th birthday of DanNet): History of computer vision contests won by deep CNNs since 2011. DanNet won 4 of them in a row before the similar AlexNet/VGG Net and the Resnet (a Highway Net with open gates) joined the party. Today, deep CNNs are standard in computer vision.

[GPUCNN6] J. Schmidhuber, D. Ciresan, U. Meier, J. Masci, A. Graves. On Fast Deep Nets for AGI Vision. In Proc. Fourth Conference on Artificial General Intelligence (AGI-11), Google, Mountain View, California, 2011. PDF.

[GPUCNN7] D. C. Ciresan, A. Giusti, L. M. Gambardella, J. Schmidhuber. Mitosis Detection in Breast Cancer Histology Images using Deep Neural Networks. MICCAI 2013. PDF.

[GPUCNN8] J. Schmidhuber. First deep learner to win a contest on object detection in large images— first deep learner to win a medical imaging contest (2012). HTML. How IDSIA used GPU-based CNNs to win the ICPR 2012 Contest on Mitosis Detection and the MICCAI 2013 Grand Challenge.

[GPUCNN9] K. Simonyan, A. Zisserman. Very deep convolutional networks for large-scale image recognition. Preprint arXiv:1409.1556 (2014).

[ISBI12] Segmentation of neuronal structures in EM stacks challenge - ISBI 2012

[LSTM1] S. Hochreiter, J. Schmidhuber. Long Short-Term Memory. Neural Computation, 9(8):1735-1780, 1997. PDF. Based on [LSTM0]. More.

[LSTM2] F. A. Gers, J. Schmidhuber, F. Cummins. Learning to Forget: Continual Prediction with LSTM. Neural Computation, 12(10):2451-2471, 2000. PDF. The "vanilla LSTM architecture" with forget gates that everybody is using today, e.g., in Google's Tensorflow.

[LSTM5] A. Graves, M. Liwicki, S. Fernandez, R. Bertolami, H. Bunke, J. Schmidhuber. A Novel Connectionist System for Improved Unconstrained Handwriting Recognition. IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence, vol. 31, no. 5, 2009. PDF.

[LSTM6] A. Graves, J. Schmidhuber. Offline Handwriting Recognition with Multidimensional Recurrent Neural Networks. NIPS'22, p 545-552, Vancouver, MIT Press, 2009. PDF.

[LSTM6a] J. Schmidhuber (AI Blog, 2011). 2009: First official international pattern recognition contests won by Deep Learning (3 connected handwriting competitions at ICDAR 2009 won through LSTM RNN performing simultaneous segmentation and recognition); 2011: first human-competitive recognition of handwritten digits

[MIR] J. Schmidhuber (AI Blog, Oct 2019, revised 2021). Deep Learning: Our Miraculous Year 1990-1991. Preprint arXiv:2005.05744, 2020. The deep learning neural networks of our team have revolutionised pattern recognition and machine learning, and are now heavily used in academia and industry. In 2020-21, we celebrate that many of the basic ideas behind this revolution were published within fewer than 12 months in our "Annus Mirabilis" 1990-1991 at TU Munich.

[MLP1] D. C. Ciresan, U. Meier, L. M. Gambardella, J. Schmidhuber. Deep Big Simple Neural Nets For Handwritten Digit Recognition. Neural Computation 22(12): 3207-3220, 2010. ArXiv Preprint. Showed that plain backprop for deep standard NNs is sufficient to break benchmark records, without any unsupervised pre-training.

[MLP2] J. Schmidhuber (AI Blog, Sep 2020). 10-year anniversary of supervised deep learning breakthrough (2010). No unsupervised pre-training. By 2010, when compute was 100 times more expensive than today, both our feedforward NNs[MLP1] and our earlier recurrent NNs were able to beat all competing algorithms on important problems of that time. This deep learning revolution quickly spread from Europe to North America and Asia. The rest is history.

[MOST] J.  Schmidhuber (AI Blog, 2021). The most cited neural networks all build on work done in my labs. Foundations of the most popular NNs originated in my labs at TU Munich and IDSIA. Here I mention: (1) Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM), (2) ResNet (which is our earlier Highway Net with open gates), (3) AlexNet and VGG Net (both citing our similar earlier DanNet: the first deep convolutional NN to win image recognition competitions), (4) Generative Adversarial Networks (an instance of my earlier Adversarial Artificial Curiosity), and (5) variants of Transformers (linear Transformers are formally equivalent to my earlier Fast Weight Programmers). Most of this started with our Annus Mirabilis of 1990-1991.[MIR]

[UN] J. Schmidhuber (AI Blog, 2021). 30-year anniversary. 1991: First very deep learning with unsupervised pre-training. Unsupervised hierarchical predictive coding finds compact internal representations of sequential data to facilitate downstream learning. The hierarchy can be distilled into a single deep neural network (suggesting a simple model of conscious and subconscious information processing). 1993: solving problems of depth >1000. See also: My first Deep Learner of 1991 + Deep Learning timeline 1962-2013

[UN0] J.  Schmidhuber. Neural sequence chunkers. Technical Report FKI-148-91, Institut für Informatik, Technische Universität München, April 1991. PDF.

[UN1] J. Schmidhuber. Learning complex, extended sequences using the principle of history compression. Neural Computation, 4(2):234-242, 1992. Based on TR FKI-148-91, TUM, 1991.[UN0] PDF. First working Deep Learner based on a deep RNN hierarchy (with different self-organising time scales), overcoming the vanishing gradient problem through unsupervised pre-training and predictive coding. Also: compressing or distilling a teacher net (the chunker) into a student net (the automatizer) that does not forget its old skills—such approaches are now widely used. More.

[UN2] J. Schmidhuber. Habilitation thesis, TUM, 1993. PDF. An ancient experiment on "Very Deep Learning" with credit assignment across 1200 time steps or virtual layers and unsupervised pre-training for a stack of recurrent NN can be found here (depth > 1000).
. In 2011, DanNet triggered the deep convolutional neural network (CNN) revolution