My First Deep Learning System of 1991
+ Deep Learning Timeline 1960-2013
Pronounce: You_again Shmidhoobuh
Note: This text went through massive open online peer review in 2013.
(As a machine learning researcher I am obsessed with proper credit assignment.)
On 19 Dec 2013 a snapshot was stored as Technical Report
(minor updates added up to 2019).
The comprehensive deep learning survey (2015, 888 references) can be found here.
In 2009, our Deep Learning Artificial Neural Networks became the first Deep Learners to win official international pattern recognition competitions [A9] (with secret test set known only to the organisers); by 2012 they had won eight of them [A12], including the first contests on object detection in
large images  (at ICPR 2012) and image segmentation  (at ISBI 2012). In 2011, they achieved the
world's first superhuman visual pattern recognition results [A11]. Others implemented variants and have won additional contests since 2012, e.g., [A12,A13].
The field of Deep Learning research is far older though (see timeline further down).
Ivakhnenko and Lapa  published the first general,
working learning algorithm for supervised
deep feedforward multilayer perceptrons [A0]
with arbitrarily many layers of neuron-like elements,
using nonlinear activation functions based on additions (i.e., linear perceptrons) and multiplications (i.e., gates).
They incrementally trained and pruned their network layer by layer to learn internal representations,
using regression and a separate validation set. (They did not call this a neural network, but that's what it was.)
For example, Ivakhnenko's 1971 paper  already described a deep learning net with 8 layers,
trained by their highly cited method (the "Group Method of Data Handling")
which was still popular in the new millennium, especially in Eastern Europe, where much of Machine Learning was born.
That is, Minsky & Papert's later 1969 book about the limitations of shallow nets with a single layer ("Perceptrons") addressed a "problem" that had already been solved for 4 years :-) Maybe Minsky did not even know, but he should have. Some claim that Minsky's book killed NN-related research, but of course it didn't, at least not outside the US.
My own first Deep Learner dates back to 1991 [1,2].
To my knowledge, it also was the first "Very Deep Learner," much deeper than those of
Ivakhnenko, the father of Deep Learning: it was able to
perform credit assignment across hundreds of nonlinear operators or neural layers, by using unsupervised pre-training for a stack of recurrent neural networks (RNN) (deep by nature) as in the figure above. (RNN architectures were
first informally proposed in 1945 ,
then formalised in 1956 . Such RNNs are general computers more powerful than normal feedforward NNs, and can encode entire sequences of inputs. RNNs relate to FNNs like general computers relate to mere calculators. In particular, unlike FNNs, RNNs can in principle deal with problems of arbitrary depth.)
The basic idea of my first Deep Learner is still relevant today. Each RNN is trained for a while in unsupervised fashion to predict its next input. From then on, only unexpected inputs (errors) convey new information and get fed to the next higher RNN which thus ticks on a slower, self-organising time scale. It can easily be shown that no information gets lost. It just gets compressed (note that much of machine learning is essentially about compression). We get less and less redundant input sequence encodings in deeper and deeper levels of this hierarchical temporal memory, which compresses data in both space (like feedforward NN) and time. There also is a continuous variant .
One ancient illustrative Deep Learning experiment of 1993  required credit assignment across 1200 time steps, or through 1200 subsequent nonlinear virtual layers. The top level code of the initially unsupervised RNN stack, however, got so compact that (previously infeasible) sequence classification through additional supervised learning became possible.
There is a way of compressing or distilling higher levels down into lower levels, thus partially collapsing the hierarchical temporal memory. The trick is to retrain lower-level RNN to continually imitate (predict) the hidden units of already trained, slower, higher-level RNN, through additional predictive output neurons [1,2]. This helps the lower RNN to develop appropriate, rarely changing memories that may bridge very long time lags.
The Deep Learner of 1991 was a first way of overcoming the
Fundamental Deep Learning Problem
identified and analysed in 1991 by my very first student (now professor) Sepp Hochreiter: the problem of vanishing or exploding gradients [3,4,4a,A5]. The latter motivated all our subsequent Deep Learning research of the 1990s and 2000s.
LSTM RNN (1997)
(e.g., [5,6,7,A7]) we could eventually perform similar feats as with the 1991 system [1,2], overcoming the
Fundamental Deep Learning Problem without any unsupervised pre-training. Moreover, LSTM could also learn tasks unlearnable by the partially unsupervised 1991 chunker [1,2].
Particularly successful are stacks of LSTM RNNs  trained by
Connectionist Temporal Classification (CTC) . On faster computers of 2009, this became the first RNN system ever to win an official international pattern recognition competition [A9], through the work of my PhD student and postdoc Alex Graves, e.g., . To my knowledge, this also was the first Deep Learning system ever (recurrent or not) to win such a contest. (In fact, it won three different ICDAR 2009 contests on connected handwriting in three different languages, e.g., [11,A9,A13].) Alex later moved on to Geoffrey Hinton's lab (Univ. Toronto), where a stack  of our bidirectional LSTM RNNs  also broke a famous TIMIT speech recognition record [12,A13], despite thousands of man years previously spent on HMM-based speech recognition research.
CTC-LSTM also helped to score first at NIST's OpenHaRT2013 evaluation [12a].
As of 2015, the large IT companies
(Google, Microsoft, IBM, Baidu, many others) have used our recurrent neural networks (especially LSTM) to greatly improve speech recognition, machine translation, image caption generation, syntactic parsing, text-to-speech synthesis, photo-real talking heads, prosody detection, video-to-text translation, and many other important applications. For example,
this Google blog describes how our CTC-based LSTM greatly improved Google Voice (by 49%);
now it is on billions of smartphones.
Well-known entrepreneurs also got interested in such hierarchical temporal memories [13,14].
The ancient term Deep Learning was actually first introduced
to Machine Learning by Dechter (1986),
and to Artificial Neural Networks (NNs) by Aizenberg et al (2000).
Subsequently it became especially popular in the context of deep NNs,
the most successful Deep Learners,
which are much older though, dating back half a century.
Around 2006, in the context of unsupervised pre-training for less general feedforward networks [15,A8], a Deep Learner reached 1.2% error rate  on the MNIST handwritten digits , back then the most famous benchmark of Machine Learning. Our team then showed that good old backpropagation [A1] on GPUs (with training pattern distortions [42,43] but without any unsupervised pre-training) can actually achieve a three times better result of 0.35% [17,A10] - back then, a world record (a previous standard net achieved 0.7% ; a backprop-trained  Convolutional NNs (CNNs) [19a,19,16,16a] got 0.39% [49,A8]; plain backprop without distortions except for small saccadic eye movement-like translations already got 0.95%). Then we replaced our standard net by a biologically rather plausible architecture inspired by early neuroscience-related work [19a,18,19,16]: Deep and Wide GPU-based Multi-Column Max-Pooling CNNs (MCMPCNNs) [21,22,A11] with alternating backprop-based [16,16a,50] weight-sharing convolutional layers [19,16,23] and winner-take-all [19a,19] max-pooling [20,24,50,46] layers (see  for early GPU-based CNNs). MCMPCNNs are committees of MPCNNs [25a] with simple democratic output averaging (compare earlier more sophisticated ensemble methods ). Object detection [54,54c,54a,A12] and image segmentation [53,A12] profit from fast MPCNN-based image scans [28,28a]. Our supervised GPU-MCMPCNN was the first method to achieve superhuman performance in an official international competition (with secret test set known only to the organisers) [25,25a-c,A11] (compare ), and the first with human-competitive performance (around 0.2%) on MNIST . Since 2011, it has won numerous additional competitions on a routine basis [A11-A13].
Our GPU-MPCNNs [21,A11] were adopted by the groups of Univ. Toronto/Stanford/Google, e.g., [26,27,A12,A13].
Apple Inc., the most profitable smartphone maker, hired Ueli Meier, member of our Deep Learning team that won the ICDAR 2011 Chinese handwriting contest [11,22].
ArcelorMittal, the world's top steel producer, is using our methods for material defect detection, e.g., . One of the most important applications of our techniques is biomedical imaging , e.g., for cancer prognosis or plaque detection in CT heart scans.
Other users include
a leading automotive supplier, and companies such as
Deepmind, whose first PhDs in Machine Learning & AI (one of them co-founder)
were trained in my lab where they first met.
Remarkably, the most successful Deep Learning algorithms in most international contests since 2009 [A9-A13] are adaptations and extensions of an over 40-year-old algorithm, namely, Linnainmaa's (1970) supervised efficient backpropagation [A1,60,29a] (compare [30,31,58,59,61]) or BPTT/RTRL for RNNs, e.g., [32-34,37-39]. (Exceptions include two 2011 contests specialised on
transfer learning  - but compare ). In particular, as of 2013, state-of-the-art feedforward nets [A11-A13] are GPU-based  multi-column  combinations of two ancient concepts: Backpropagation [A1] applied [16a] to Neocognitron-like convolutional architectures [A2] (with max-pooling layers [20,50,46] instead of alternative [19a,19,40,20a] local winner-take-all methods). (Plus additional tricks from the 1990s and 2000s, e.g., [41a,41b,41c].) In the quite different deep recurrent case, supervised systems also dominate, e.g., [5,8,10,9,39,12,A9,A13].
In particular, most competition-winning or benchmark record-setting Deep Learners [A9-A13] now use one of two supervised techniques developed in my lab: (1) recurrent LSTM (1997) [A7] trained by CTC (2006) , or (2) feedforward GPU-MPCNNs (2011) [21,A11] (building on earlier work since the 1960s mentioned in the text above).
Nevertheless, in many applications it can still be advantageous to combine the best of both worlds - supervised learning and unsupervised pre-training, like in my 1991 system described above [1,2,A6].
Acknowledgments: Thanks for valuable comments to Geoffrey Hinton, Kunihiko Fukushima, Yoshua Bengio, Sven Behnke, Yann LeCun, Sepp Hochreiter, Mike Mozer, Marc'Aurelio Ranzato, Andreas Griewank, Paul Werbos, Shun-ichi Amari, Seppo Linnainmaa, Peter Norvig, Yu-Chi Ho, Alex Graves, Dan Ciresan, Jonathan Masci, Stuart Dreyfus, and others. Graphics: Fibonacci Web Design
Timeline of Deep Learning Highlights 1960-2013
(compare references below)
[A] 1962: Neurobiological Inspiration Through Simple Cells and Complex Cells
Hubel and Wiesel described simple cells and complex cells in the visual cortex , inspiration for later deep artificial neural network (NN) architectures [A2] used in certain modern award-winning Deep Learners [A11-A12]
(I was conceived in 1962)
[A0] 1965: First Deep Learners
Ivakhnenko and Lapa published the first general,
working learning algorithm for supervised
deep feedforward multilayer perceptrons .
A paper from 1971 already described a deep network with 8 layers 
trained by the "Group Method of Data Handling,"
still popular in the new millennium.
Given a training set of input vectors with corresponding target output vectors,
layers are incrementally grown and trained by regression analysis,
then pruned with the help of a separate validation set.
Regularisation is used to weed out superfluous units, thus
learning better and better internal representations of the data.
The numbers of layers and units per layer can be learned in problem-dependent fashion.
[A1] 1970 ± a Decade or so: Backpropagation
Error functions and their gradients for complex, nonlinear, multi-stage, differentiable, NN-related systems have been discussed at least
since the early 1960s, e.g., [56-58,64-66]. Gradient descent  in such systems can be performed
[57a,57,58] by iterating the ancient chain rule [68,69] in dynamic
programming style  (compare simplified derivation using chain rule only [57b]).
However, efficient error backpropagation (BP) in arbitrary, possibly sparse, NN-like networks
apparently was first described by Linnainmaa
in 1970 [60-61]. This is also known as the reverse mode of automatic differentiation ,
where the costs of forward activation spreading
essentially equal the costs of backward derivative calculation.
See early FORTRAN code . Compare [62,29c] and some
NN-related discussion  (section 5.5.1),
and the first NN-specific efficient BP of 1982 by Werbos [29a,29b].
and generalisations for sequence-processing recurrent NNs, e.g., [32-34,37-39].
See also natural gradients .
As of 2013, BP is still the central Deep Learning algorithm.
[A2] 1979: Deep Neocognitron, Weight Sharing, Convolution
Deep Neocognitron Architecture [19a,19,40] incorporated neurophysiological insights [A,18] and introduced weight-sharing convolutional neural layers as well as winner-take-all layers. It is very similar to the architecture of modern, feedforward, competition-winning, purely supervised, gradient-based Deep Learners [A11-A12] (but uses local unsupervised learning rules instead).
[A3] 1987: Autoencoder Hierarchies
Ideas published by Ballard on unsupervised autoencoder hierarchies , related to post-2000 feedforward Deep Learners based on unsupervised pre-training, e.g., [15,A8]; compare survey  and somewhat related RAAMs 
[A4] 1987-89: Backpropagation for CNNs
In 1987, backprop [A1] was applied by Waibel [15a] to NNs with convolutions and weight sharing.
In 1989, LeCun et al. [16,16a] applied it to Fukushima's 2D convolutional systems [A2,19a,19,16] - this combination has become an essential ingredient of many modern, feedforward, computer vision contest-winning Deep Learners [A11-A12]
[A5] 1991: Fundamental Deep Learning Problem
By the early 1990s, experiments had shown that deep feedforward or recurrent networks are hard to
train by backpropagation [A1]. My student
Hochreiter discovered and analyzed the reason, namely, the
Fundamental Deep Learning Problem
due to vanishing or exploding gradients . Compare 
[A6] 1991: Deep Hierarchy of Recurrent NNs
My first recurrent Deep Learning system (present page) [1,2]
partially overcame the fundamental problem [A5]
through a deep RNN stack pre-trained in unsupervised fashion
to accelerate subsequent supervised learning.
This was a working Deep Learner in the
modern post-2000 sense, and also the first Neural Hierarchical Temporal Memory,
and also the first "Very Deep Learner."
[A7] 1997: Supervised Very Deep Learner (LSTM)
Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) RNN
first purely supervised Very Deep Learner,
e.g., [5-10,12,A9]. LSTM RNNs were able to learn solutions to many previously unlearnable problems.
[A8] 2006: Deep Belief Networks / CNN Results
A paper by Hinton and Salakhutdinov  focused on unsupervised pre-training of feedforward NNs
to accelerate subsequent supervised learning (compare [A6]) (keywords: restricted Boltzmann machines, Deep Belief Networks).
In the same year, a supervised BP-trained [A1,A4] CNNs [A2,A4] by Ranzato et al. set a new record  on the famous MNIST handwritten digit recognition benchmark , using training pattern
[A9] 2009: First Competitions Won by Deep Learning
First official international pattern recognition contests (with secret test sets) won by Deep Learning: Several connected handwriting competitions at ICDAR 2009 were won by LSTM RNNs [A7] performing simultaneous segmentation and recognition [10,11].
[A10] 2010: Plain Backpropagation on GPUs Yields Excellent Results
New MNIST record  set
by good old backpropagation [A1] in deep but otherwise
standard NNs (no unsupervised pre-training, no convolution, but training pattern
deformations), through a fast GPU implementation .
(A year later, the first human-competitive performance on MNIST
was achieved by a deep MCMPCNN [22,A11].)
[A11] 2011: MPCNNs on GPU - First Superhuman Visual Pattern Recognition
Ciresan et al. introduced
supervised GPU-based Max-Pooling CNNs or convnets (GPU-MPCNNs) ,
today used by most if not all feedforward competition-winning deep NN [A12-A13]. The
first superhuman visual pattern recognition (on a secret test set) was achieved [25,25a-c] (twice better than humans, three times better than the closest artificial NN competitor, six times better than the best non-neural method),
through deep and wide Multi-Column (MC) [25a,48] GPU-MPCNN , the current gold standard for deep feedforward NNs, now used in many applications [A12-A13].
[A12] 2012: First Contests Won on Object Detection and Image Segmentation
An image-scanning [28,28a] GPU-MPCNN [21,A11] became the
first Deep Learner to win a
contest on visual object detection in large images [54,54c,54d,54a]
(as opposed to mere recognition/classification): the ICPR 2012 contest on mitosis detection.
New record  set on the ImageNet classification benchmark with the help of
an MC [A11] GPU-MPCNN variant popular in the computer vision community.
First pure image segmentation contest (ISBI 2012) won by a Deep Learner
(again an image-scanning GPU-MPCNN) [53,53a,53b] - the 8th international pattern recognition contest won by my team since 2009 (interview).
[A13] 2013: More Contests and Benchmark Records
New TIMIT phoneme recognition record
set by deep LSTM RNNs .
New record (almost human performance) [45a] on the ICDAR Chinese handwriting recognition
benchmark (over 3700 classes) set on a desktop machine
by a deep GPU-MCMPCNN.
MICCAI 2013 Grand Challenge on Mitosis Detection
won by a GPU-MPCNN [54-54b].
GPU-MPCNNs  also help to achieve new best results
on ImageNet classification [26a] and PASCAL object detection [54e].
Additional contests mentioned in the web pages of
the Swiss AI Lab IDSIA and
the University of Toronto.
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