 In the last chapter we saw how neural networks can learn their
weights and biases using the gradient descent algorithm. There
was, however, a gap in our explanation: we didn't discuss how
to compute the gradient of the cost function. That's quite a gap!
In this chapter I'll explain a fast algorithm for computing such
gradients, an algorithm known as backpropagation.
The backpropagation algorithm was originally introduced in
the 1970s, but its importance wasn't fully appreciated until a
famous 1986 paper by David Rumelhart, Geoffrey Hinton, and
Ronald Williams. That paper describes several neural networks
where backpropagation works far faster than earlier
approaches to learning, making it possible to use neural nets to
solve problems which had previously been insoluble. Today,
the backpropagation algorithm is the workhorse of learning in
neural networks.
This chapter is more mathematically involved than the rest of
the book. If you're not crazy about mathematics you may be
tempted to skip the chapter, and to treat backpropagation as a
black box whose details you're willing to ignore. Why take the
time to study those details?
The reason, of course, is understanding. At the heart of
backpropagation is an expression for the partial derivative
of the cost function with respect to any weight (or
bias ) in the network. The expression tells us how quickly the
cost changes when we change the weights and biases. And
while the expression is somewhat complex, it also has a beauty
to it, with each element having a natural, intuitive
interpretation. And so backpropagation isn't just a fast
algorithm for learning. It actually gives us detailed insights into
how changing the weights and biases changes the overall
behaviour of the network. That's well worth studying in detail.
With that said, if you want to skim the chapter, or jump
CHAPTER 2
How the backpropagation algorithm works
C/w C
w
b straight to the next chapter, that's fine. I've written the rest of
the book to be accessible even if you treat backpropagation as a
black box. There are, of course, points later in the book where I
refer back to results from this chapter. But at those points you
should still be able to understand the main conclusions, even if
you don't follow all the reasoning.
Warm up: a fast matrix-based
approach to computing the output
from a neural network
Before discussing backpropagation, let's warm up with a fast
matrix-based algorithm to compute the output from a neural
network. We actually already briefly saw this algorithm near
the end of the last chapter, but I described it quickly, so it's
worth revisiting in detail. In particular, this is a good way of
getting comfortable with the notation used in backpropagation,
in a familiar context.
Let's begin with a notation which lets us refer to weights in the
network in an unambiguous way. We'll use to denote the
weight for the connection from the neuron in the
layer to the neuron in the layer. So, for example, the
diagram below shows the weight on a connection from the
fourth neuron in the second layer to the second neuron in the
third layer of a network:
This notation is cumbersome at first, and it does take some
work to master. But with a little effort you'll find the notation
becomes easy and natural. One quirk of the notation is the
ordering of the and indices. You might think that it makes
more sense to use to refer to the input neuron, and to the
output neuron, not vice versa, as is actually done. I'll explain
the reason for this quirk below.
w
l
jk
k
th
(l 1
)
th
j
th
l
th
j
k
j
k We use a similar notation for the network's biases and
activations. Explicitly, we use for the bias of the neuron in
the layer. And we use for the activation of the neuron
in the layer. The following diagram shows examples of these
notations in use:
With these notations, the activation of the neuron in the
layer is related to the activations in the layer by the
equation (compare Equation (4) and surrounding discussion in
the last chapter)
where the sum is over all neurons in the layer. To
rewrite this expression in a matrix form we define a weight
matrix for each layer, . The entries of the weight matrix
are just the weights connecting to the layer of neurons, that
is, the entry in the row and column is . Similarly, for
each layer we define a bias vector, . You can probably guess
how this works - the components of the bias vector are just the
values , one component for each neuron in the layer. And
finally, we define an activation vector whose components are
the activations .
The last ingredient we need to rewrite (23) in a matrix form is
the idea of vectorizing a function such as . We met
vectorization briefly in the last chapter, but to recap, the idea is
that we want to apply a function such as to every element in a
vector . We use the obvious notation to denote this kind
of elementwise application of a function. That is, the
components of are just . As an example, if we
have the function then the vectorized form of has the
effect
b
l
j
j
th
l
th
a
l
j
j
th
l
th
a
l
j
j
th
l
th
(l 1
)
th
= σ
(
+
)
,
a
l
j
k
w
l
jk
a
l1
k
b
l
j
(23)
k
(l 1
)
th
w
l
l
w
l
l
th
j
th
k
th
w
l
jk
l b
l
b
l
j
l
th
a
l
a
l
j
σ
σ
v
σ(v)
σ(v)
σ(v = σ( )
)
j
v
j
f (x) =
x
2
f
f
([ ])
=
[ ]
=
[ ]
,
2
3
f (2)
f (3)
4
9
(24) that is, the vectorized just squares every element of the
vector.
With these notations in mind, Equation (23) can be rewritten
in the beautiful and compact vectorized form
This expression gives us a much more global way of thinking
about how the activations in one layer relate to activations in
the previous layer: we just apply the weight matrix to the
activations, then add the bias vector, and finally apply the
function*
*By the way, it's this expression that motivates the quirk in the notation
mentioned earlier. If we used to index the input neuron, and to index the
output neuron, then we'd need to replace the weight matrix in Equation (25)
by the transpose of the weight matrix. That's a small change, but annoying,
and we'd lose the easy simplicity of saying (and thinking) "apply the weight
matrix to the activations".
. That global view is often easier and more succinct (and
involves fewer indices!) than the neuron-by-neuron view we've
taken to now. Think of it as a way of escaping index hell, while
remaining precise about what's going on. The expression is also
useful in practice, because most matrix libraries provide fast
ways of implementing matrix multiplication, vector addition,
and vectorization. Indeed, the code in the last chapter made
implicit use of this expression to compute the behaviour of the
network.
When using Equation (25) to compute , we compute the
intermediate quantity along the way. This
quantity turns out to be useful enough to be worth naming: we
call the weighted input to the neurons in layer . We'll make
considerable use of the weighted input later in the chapter.
Equation (25) is sometimes written in terms of the weighted
input, as . It's also worth noting that has
components , that is, is just the weighted
input to the activation function for neuron in layer .
The two assumptions we need about
the cost function
The goal of backpropagation is to compute the partial
derivatives and of the cost function with respect
f
= σ( + ).
a
l
w
l
a
l1
b
l
(25)
σ
w
l
jk
j
k
a
l
+
z
l
w
l
a
l1
b
l
z
l
l
z
l
= σ( )
a
l
z
l
z
l
= +
z
l
j
k
w
l
jk
a
l1
k
b
l
j
z
l
j
j
l
C/w C/b C to any weight or bias in the network. For backpropagation
to work we need to make two main assumptions about the form
of the cost function. Before stating those assumptions, though,
it's useful to have an example cost function in mind. We'll use
the quadratic cost function from last chapter (c.f. Equation
(6)). In the notation of the last section, the quadratic cost has
the form
where: is the total number of training examples; the sum is
over individual training examples, ; is the
corresponding desired output; denotes the number of layers
in the network; and is the vector of activations
output from the network when is input.
Okay, so what assumptions do we need to make about our cost
function, , in order that backpropagation can be applied? The
first assumption we need is that the cost function can be
written as an average over cost functions for
individual training examples, . This is the case for the
quadratic cost function, where the cost for a single training
example is . This assumption will also hold
true for all the other cost functions we'll meet in this book.
The reason we need this assumption is because what
backpropagation actually lets us do is compute the partial
derivatives and for a single training example. We
then recover and by averaging over training
examples. In fact, with this assumption in mind, we'll suppose
the training example has been fixed, and drop the subscript,
writing the cost as . We'll eventually put the back in, but
for now it's a notational nuisance that is better left implicit.
The second assumption we make about the cost is that it can be
written as a function of the outputs from the neural network:
w
b
C = y(x) (x) ,
1
2n
x
a
L
2
(26)
n
x
y = y(x)
L
= (x)
a
L
a
L
x
C
C =
1
n
x
C
x
C
x
x
= y
C
x
1
2
a
L
2
/w
C
x
/b
C
x
C/w C/b
x x
C
x
C
x For example, the quadratic cost function satisfies this
requirement, since the quadratic cost for a single training
example may be written as
and thus is a function of the output activations. Of course, this
cost function also depends on the desired output , and you
may wonder why we're not regarding the cost also as a function
of . Remember, though, that the input training example is
fixed, and so the output is also a fixed parameter. In
particular, it's not something we can modify by changing the
weights and biases in any way, i.e., it's not something which the
neural network learns. And so it makes sense to regard as a
function of the output activations alone, with merely a
parameter that helps define that function.
The backpropagation algorithm is based on common linear
algebraic operations - things like vector addition, multiplying a
vector by a matrix, and so on. But one of the operations is a
little less commonly used. In particular, suppose and are two
vectors of the same dimension. Then we use to denote the
elementwise product of the two vectors. Thus the components
of are just . As an example,
This kind of elementwise multiplication is sometimes called the
Hadamard product or Schur product. We'll refer to it as the
Hadamard product. Good matrix libraries usually provide fast
implementations of the Hadamard product, and that comes in
handy when implementing backpropagation.
The four fundamental equations
behind backpropagation
Backpropagation is about understanding how changing the
weights and biases in a network changes the cost function.
Ultimately, this means computing the partial derivatives
and . But to compute those, we first introduce an
x
C = y = ( ,
1
2
a
L
2
1
2
j
y
j
a
L
j
)
2
(27)
y
y
x
y
C
a
L
y
s t
s
t
s t
s t
(s t =
)
j
s
j
t
j
[ ]
[ ]
=
[ ]
=
[ ]
.
1
2
3
4
1 3
2 4
3
8
(28)
C/
w
l
jk
C/
b
l
j intermediate quantity, , which we call the error in the
neuron in the layer. Backpropagation will give us a
procedure to compute the error , and then will relate to
and .
To understand how the error is defined, imagine there is a
demon in our neural network:
The demon sits at the neuron in layer . As the input to the
neuron comes in, the demon messes with the neuron's
operation. It adds a little change to the neuron's weighted
outputs . This change propagates through later layers
in the network, finally causing the overall cost to change by an
amount .
Now, this demon is a good demon, and is trying to help you
improve the cost, i.e., they're trying to find a which makes
the cost smaller. Suppose has a large value (either positive
or negative). Then the demon can lower the cost quite a bit by
choosing to have the opposite sign to . By contrast, if
is close to zero, then the demon can't improve the cost much at
all by perturbing the weighted input . So far as the demon can
tell, the neuron is already pretty near optimal*
*This is only the case for small changes , of course. We'll assume that the
demon is constrained to make such small changes.
. And so there's a heuristic sense in which is a measure of
the error in the neuron.
Motivated by this story, we define the error of neuron in
layer by
As per our usual conventions, we use to denote the vector of
δ
l
j
j
th
l
th
δ
l
j
δ
l
j
C/
w
l
jk
C/
b
l
j
j
th
l
Δ
z
l
j
σ( )
z
l
j
σ( + Δ )
z
l
j
z
l
j
Δ
C
z
l
j
z
l
j
Δ
z
l
j
C
z
l
j
Δ
z
l
j
C
z
l
j
C
z
l
j
z
l
j
Δ
z
l
j
C
z
l
j
δ
l
j
j
l
.
δ
l
j
C
z
l
j
(29)
δ
l errors associated with layer . Backpropagation will give us a
way of computing for every layer, and then relating those
errors to the quantities of real interest, and .
You might wonder why the demon is changing the weighted
input . Surely it'd be more natural to imagine the demon
changing the output activation , with the result that we'd be
using as our measure of error. In fact, if you do this things
work out quite similarly to the discussion below. But it turns
out to make the presentation of backpropagation a little more
algebraically complicated. So we'll stick with as our
measure of error*
*In classification problems like MNIST the term "error" is sometimes used to
mean the classification failure rate. E.g., if the neural net correctly classifies
96.0 percent of the digits, then the error is 4.0 percent. Obviously, this has
quite a different meaning from our vectors. In practice, you shouldn't have
trouble telling which meaning is intended in any given usage.
.
Plan of attack: Backpropagation is based around four
fundamental equations. Together, those equations give us a
way of computing both the error and the gradient of the cost
function. I state the four equations below. Be warned, though:
you shouldn't expect to instantaneously assimilate the
equations. Such an expectation will lead to disappointment. In
fact, the backpropagation equations are so rich that
understanding them well requires considerable time and
patience as you gradually delve deeper into the equations. The
good news is that such patience is repaid many times over. And
so the discussion in this section is merely a beginning, helping
you on the way to a thorough understanding of the equations.
Here's a preview of the ways we'll delve more deeply into the
equations later in the chapter: I'll give a short proof of the
equations, which helps explain why they are true; we'll restate
the equations in algorithmic form as pseudocode, and see how
the pseudocode can be implemented as real, running Python
code; and, in the final section of the chapter, we'll develop an
intuitive picture of what the backpropagation equations mean,
and how someone might discover them from scratch. Along the
way we'll return repeatedly to the four fundamental equations,
and as you deepen your understanding those equations will
come to seem comfortable and, perhaps, even beautiful and
l
δ
l
C/
w
l
jk
C/
b
l
j
z
l
j
a
l
j
C
a
l
j
=
δ
l
j
C
z
l
j
δ
δ
l natural.
An equation for the error in the output layer, : The
components of are given by
This is a very natural expression. The first term on the right,
, just measures how fast the cost is changing as a
function of the output activation. If, for example, doesn't
depend much on a particular output neuron, , then will be
small, which is what we'd expect. The second term on the right,
, measures how fast the activation function is changing
at .
Notice that everything in (BP1) is easily computed. In
particular, we compute while computing the behaviour of
compute . The exact form of will, of course,
depend on the form of the cost function. However, provided the
cost function is known there should be little trouble computing
. For example, if we're using the quadratic cost function
then , and so , which
obviously is easily computable.
Equation (BP1) is a componentwise expression for . It's a
perfectly good expression, but not the matrix-based form we
want for backpropagation. However, it's easy to rewrite the
equation in a matrix-based form, as
Here, is defined to be a vector whose components are the
partial derivatives . You can think of as expressing
the rate of change of with respect to the output activations.
It's easy to see that Equations (BP1a) and (BP1) are equivalent,
and for that reason from now on we'll use (BP1)
interchangeably to refer to both equations. As an example, in
the case of the quadratic cost we have , and so
the fully matrix-based form of (BP1) becomes
As you can see, everything in this expression has a nice vector
form, and is easily computed using a library such as Numpy.
δ
L
δ
L
= ( ).
δ
L
j
C
a
L
j
σ
z
L
j
(BP1)
C/
a
L
j
j
th
C
j
δ
L
j
( )
σ
z
L
j
σ
z
L
j
z
L
j
( )
σ
z
L
j
C/
a
L
j
C/
a
L
j
C = (
1
2
j
y
j
a
j
)
2
C/ = ( )
a
L
j
a
j
y
j
δ
L
= C ( ).
δ
L
a
σ
z
L
(BP1a)
C
a
C/
a
L
j
C
a
C
C = ( y)
a
a
L
= ( y) ( ).
δ
L
a
L
σ
z
L
(30) An equation for the error in terms of the error in
the next layer, : In particular
where is the transpose of the weight matrix for the
layer. This equation appears complicated, but each
element has a nice interpretation. Suppose we know the error
at the layer. When we apply the transpose weight
matrix, , we can think intuitively of this as moving the
error backward through the network, giving us some sort of
measure of the error at the output of the layer. We then take
the Hadamard product . This moves the error backward
through the activation function in layer , giving us the error
in the weighted input to layer .
By combining (BP2) with (BP1) we can compute the error for
any layer in the network. We start by using (BP1) to compute
, then apply Equation (BP2) to compute , then Equation
(BP2) again to compute , and so on, all the way back
through the network.
An equation for the rate of change of the cost with
respect to any bias in the network: In particular:
That is, the error is exactly equal to the rate of change
. This is great news, since (BP1) and (BP2) have already
told us how to compute . We can rewrite (BP3) in shorthand
as
where it is understood that is being evaluated at the same
neuron as the bias .
An equation for the rate of change of the cost with
respect to any weight in the network: In particular:
This tells us how to compute the partial derivatives in
terms of the quantities and , which we already know how
to compute. The equation can be rewritten in a less index-
δ
l
δ
l+1
= (( ) ( ),
δ
l
w
l+1
)
T
δ
l+1
σ
z
l
(BP2)
(
w
l+1
)
T
w
l+1
(l + 1
)
th
δ
l+1
l +
1
th
(
w
l+1
)
T
l
th
( )
σ
z
l
l δ
l
l
δ
l
δ
L
δ
L1
δ
L2
= .
C
b
l
j
δ
l
j
(BP3)
δ
l
j
C/
b
l
j
δ
l
j
= δ,
C
b
(31)
δ
b
= .
C
w
l
jk
a
l1
k
δ
l
j
(BP4)
C/
w
l
jk
δ
l
a
l1 heavy notation as
where it's understood that is the activation of the neuron
input to the weight , and is the error of the neuron output
from the weight . Zooming in to look at just the weight , and
the two neurons connected by that weight, we can depict this
as:
A nice consequence of Equation (32) is that when the
activation is small, , the gradient term will also
tend to be small. In this case, we'll say the weight learns
slowly, meaning that it's not changing much during gradient
descent. In other words, one consequence of (BP4) is that
weights output from low-activation neurons learn slowly.
There are other insights along these lines which can be
obtained from (BP1)-(BP4). Let's start by looking at the output
layer. Consider the term in (BP1). Recall from the graph
of the sigmoid function in the last chapter that the function
becomes very flat when is approximately or . When this
occurs we will have . And so the lesson is that a
weight in the final layer will learn slowly if the output neuron is
either low activation ( ) or high activation ( ). In this case
it's common to say the output neuron has saturated and, as a
result, the weight has stopped learning (or is learning slowly).
Similar remarks hold also for the biases of output neuron.
We can obtain similar insights for earlier layers. In particular,
note the term in (BP2). This means that is likely to get
small if the neuron is near saturation. And this, in turn, means
that any weights input to a saturated neuron will learn slowly*
*This reasoning won't hold if has large enough entries to compensate
for the smallness of . But I'm speaking of the general tendency.
.
Summing up, we've learnt that a weight will learn slowly if
either the input neuron is low-activation, or if the output
neuron has saturated, i.e., is either high- or low-activation.
= ,
C
w
a
in
δ
out
(32)
a
in
w
δ
out
w w
a
in
0
a
in
C/w
( )
σ
z
L
j
σ
σ( )
z
L
j
0 1
( ) 0
σ
z
L
j
0 1
( )
σ
z
l
δ
l
j
w
l+1
T
δ
l+1
( )
σ
z
l
j None of these observations is too greatly surprising. Still, they
help improve our mental model of what's going on as a neural
network learns. Furthermore, we can turn this type of
reasoning around. The four fundamental equations turn out to
hold for any activation function, not just the standard sigmoid
function (that's because, as we'll see in a moment, the proofs
don't use any special properties of ). And so we can use these
equations to design activation functions which have particular
desired learning properties. As an example to give you the idea,
suppose we were to choose a (non-sigmoid) activation function
so that is always positive, and never gets close to zero. That
would prevent the slow-down of learning that occurs when
ordinary sigmoid neurons saturate. Later in the book we'll see
examples where this kind of modification is made to the
activation function. Keeping the four equations (BP1)-(BP4) in
mind can help explain why such modifications are tried, and
what impact they can have.
Problem
Alternate presentation of the equations of
backpropagation: I've stated the equations of
backpropagation (notably (BP1) and (BP2)) using the
Hadamard product. This presentation may be
disconcerting if you're unused to the Hadamard product.
There's an alternative approach, based on conventional
matrix multiplication, which some readers may find
enlightening. (1) Show that (BP1) may be rewritten as
where is a square matrix whose diagonal entries are
the values , and whose off-diagonal entries are zero.
Note that this matrix acts on by conventional matrix
σ
σ
σ
= ( ) C,
δ
L
Σ
z
L
a
(33)
( )
Σ
z
L
( )
σ
z
L
j
C
a multiplication. (2) Show that (BP2) may be rewritten as
(3) By combining observations (1) and (2) show that
For readers comfortable with matrix multiplication this
equation may be easier to understand than (BP1) and
(BP2). The reason I've focused on (BP1) and (BP2) is
because that approach turns out to be faster to implement
numerically.
Proof of the four fundamental
equations (optional)
We'll now prove the four fundamental equations (BP1)-(BP4).
All four are consequences of the chain rule from multivariable
calculus. If you're comfortable with the chain rule, then I
strongly encourage you to attempt the derivation yourself
Let's begin with Equation (BP1), which gives an expression for
the output error, . To prove this equation, recall that by
definition
Applying the chain rule, we can re-express the partial
derivative above in terms of partial derivatives with respect to
the output activations,
where the sum is over all neurons in the output layer. Of
course, the output activation of the neuron depends only
on the input weight for the neuron when . And so
vanishes when . As a result we can simplify the
previous equation to
Recalling that the second term on the right can be
= ( )( .
δ
l
Σ
z
l
w
l+1
)
T
δ
l+1
(34)
= ( )( ( )( ( ) C
δ
l
Σ
z
l
w
l+1
)
T
Σ
z
L1
w
L
)
T
Σ
z
L
a
(35)
δ
L
= .
δ
L
j
C
z
L
j
(36)
= ,
δ
L
j
k
C
a
L
k
a
L
k
z
L
j
(37)
k
a
L
k
k
th
z
L
j
j
th
k = j
/
a
L
k
z
L
j
k j
= .
δ
L
j
C
a
L
j
a
L
j
z
L
j
(38)
= σ( )
a
L
j
z
L
j written as , and the equation becomes
which is just (BP1), in component form.
Next, we'll prove (BP2), which gives an equation for the error
in terms of the error in the next layer, . To do this, we want
to rewrite in terms of . We can do this
using the chain rule,
where in the last line we have interchanged the two terms on
the right-hand side, and substituted the definition of . To
evaluate the first term on the last line, note that
Differentiating, we obtain
Substituting back into (42) we obtain
This is just (BP2) written in component form.
The final two equations we want to prove are (BP3) and (BP4).
These also follow from the chain rule, in a manner similar to
the proofs of the two equations above. I leave them to you as an
exercise.
Exercise
Prove Equations (BP3) and (BP4).
That completes the proof of the four fundamental equations of
backpropagation. The proof may seem complicated. But it's
really just the outcome of carefully applying the chain rule. A
( )
σ
z
L
j
= ( ),
δ
L
j
C
a
L
j
σ
z
L
j
(39)
δ
l
δ
l+1
= C/
δ
l
j
z
l
j
= C/
δ
l+1
k
z
l+1
k
δ
l
j
=
=
=
C
z
l
j
k
C
z
l+1
k
z
l+1
k
z
l
j
,
k
z
l+1
k
z
l
j
δ
l+1
k
(40)
(41)
(42)
δ
l+1
k
= + = σ( ) + .
z
l+1
k
j
w
l+1
kj
a
l
j
b
l+1
k
j
w
l+1
kj
z
l
j
b
l+1
k
(43)
= ( ).
z
l+1
k
z
l
j
w
l+1
kj
σ
z
l
j
(44)
= ( ).
δ
l
j
k
w
l+1
kj
δ
l+1
k
σ
z
l
j
(45) little less succinctly, we can think of backpropagation as a way
of computing the gradient of the cost function by systematically
applying the chain rule from multi-variable calculus. That's all
there really is to backpropagation - the rest is details.
The backpropagation algorithm
The backpropagation equations provide us with a way of
computing the gradient of the cost function. Let's explicitly
write this out in the form of an algorithm:
1. Input : Set the corresponding activation for the input
layer.
2. Feedforward: For each compute
and .
3. Output error : Compute the vector .
4. Backpropagate the error: For each
compute .
5. Output: The gradient of the cost function is given by
and .
Examining the algorithm you can see why it's called
backpropagation. We compute the error vectors backward,
starting from the final layer. It may seem peculiar that we're
going through the network backward. But if you think about
the proof of backpropagation, the backward movement is a
consequence of the fact that the cost is a function of outputs
from the network. To understand how the cost varies with
earlier weights and biases we need to repeatedly apply the
chain rule, working backward through the layers to obtain
usable expressions.
Exercises
Backpropagation with a single modified neuron
Suppose we modify a single neuron in a feedforward
network so that the output from the neuron is given by
, where is some function other than the
sigmoid. How should we modify the backpropagation
algorithm in this case?
x
a
1
l = 2, 3, , L
= +
z
l
w
l
a
l1
b
l
= σ( )
a
l
z
l
δ
L
= C ( )
δ
L
a
σ
z
L
l = L 1, L 2, , 2
= (( ) ( )
δ
l
w
l+1
)
T
δ
l+1
σ
z
l
=
C
w
l
jk
a
l1
k
δ
l
j
=
C
b
l
j
δ
l
j
δ
l
f ( + b)
j
w
j
x
j
f Backpropagation with linear neurons Suppose we
replace the usual non-linear function with
throughout the network. Rewrite the backpropagation
algorithm for this case.
As I've described it above, the backpropagation algorithm
computes the gradient of the cost function for a single training
example, . In practice, it's common to combine
backpropagation with a learning algorithm such as stochastic
training examples. In particular, given a mini-batch of
training examples, the following algorithm applies a gradient
descent learning step based on that mini-batch:
1. Input a set of training examples
2. For each training example : Set the corresponding
input activation , and perform the following steps:
Feedforward: For each compute
and .
Output error : Compute the vector
.
Backpropagate the error: For each
compute
.
3. Gradient descent: For each update the
weights according to the rule ,
and the biases according to the rule .
Of course, to implement stochastic gradient descent in practice
you also need an outer loop generating mini-batches of training
examples, and an outer loop stepping through multiple epochs
of training. I've omitted those for simplicity.
The code for backpropagation
Having understood backpropagation in the abstract, we can
now understand the code used in the last chapter to implement
backpropagation. Recall from that chapter that the code was
contained in the update_mini_batch and backprop methods of
the Network class. The code for these methods is a direct
σ
σ(z) = z
C =
C
x
m
x
a
x,1
l = 2, 3, , L
= +
z
x,l
w
l
a
x,l1
b
l
= σ( )
a
x,l
z
x,l
δ
x,L
= ( )
δ
x,L
a
C
x
σ
z
x,L
l = L 1, L 2, , 2
= (( ) ( )
δ
x,l
w
l+1
)
T
δ
x,l+1
σ
z
x,l
l = L, L 1, , 2
(
w
l
w
l
η
m
x
δ
x,l
a
x,l1
)
T
b
l
b
l
η
m
x
δ
x,l translation of the algorithm described above. In particular, the
update_mini_batch method updates the Network's weights and
biases by computing the gradient for the current mini_batch of
training examples:
class Network(object):
...
def update_mini_batch(self, mini_batch, eta):
"""Update the network's weights and biases by applying
gradient descent using backpropagation to a single mini batch.
The "mini_batch" is a list of tuples "(x, y)", and "eta"
is the learning rate."""
nabla_b = [np.zeros(b.shape) for b in self.biases]
nabla_w = [np.zeros(w.shape) for w in self.weights]
for x, y in mini_batch:
delta_nabla_b, delta_nabla_w = self.backprop(x, y)
nabla_b = [nb+dnb for nb, dnb in zip(nabla_b, delta_nabla_b)]
nabla_w = [nw+dnw for nw, dnw in zip(nabla_w, delta_nabla_w)]
self.weights = [w-(eta/len(mini_batch))*nw
for w, nw in zip(self.weights, nabla_w)]
self.biases = [b-(eta/len(mini_batch))*nb
for b, nb in zip(self.biases, nabla_b)]
Most of the work is done by the line delta_nabla_b,
delta_nabla_w = self.backprop(x, y) which uses the backprop
method to figure out the partial derivatives and
. The backprop method follows the algorithm in the last
section closely. There is one small change - we use a slightly
different approach to indexing the layers. This change is made
to take advantage of a feature of Python, namely the use of
negative list indices to count backward from the end of a list,
so, e.g., l[-3] is the third last entry in a list l. The code for
backprop is below, together with a few helper functions, which
are used to compute the function, the derivative , and the
derivative of the cost function. With these inclusions you
should be able to understand the code in a self-contained way.
If something's tripping you up, you may find it helpful to
consult the original description (and complete listing) of the
code.
class Network(object):
...
def backprop(self, x, y):
"""Return a tuple "(nabla_b, nabla_w)" representing the
gradient for the cost function C_x. "nabla_b" and
"nabla_w" are layer-by-layer lists of numpy arrays, similar
to "self.biases" and "self.weights"."""
nabla_b = [np.zeros(b.shape) for b in self.biases]
nabla_w = [np.zeros(w.shape) for w in self.weights]
# feedforward
activation = x
activations = [x] # list to store all the activations, layer by layer
zs = [] # list to store all the z vectors, layer by layer
for b, w in zip(self.biases, self.weights):
z = np.dot(w, activation)+b
/
C
x
b
l
j
/
C
x
w
l
jk
σ
σ zs.append(z)
activation = sigmoid(z)
activations.append(activation)
# backward pass
delta = self.cost_derivative(activations[-1], y) * \
sigmoid_prime(zs[-1])
nabla_b[-1] = delta
nabla_w[-1] = np.dot(delta, activations[-2].transpose())
# Note that the variable l in the loop below is used a little
# differently to the notation in Chapter 2 of the book. Here,
# l = 1 means the last layer of neurons, l = 2 is the
# second-last layer, and so on. It's a renumbering of the
# scheme in the book, used here to take advantage of the fact
# that Python can use negative indices in lists.
for l in xrange(2, self.num_layers):
z = zs[-l]
sp = sigmoid_prime(z)
delta = np.dot(self.weights[-l+1].transpose(), delta) * sp
nabla_b[-l] = delta
nabla_w[-l] = np.dot(delta, activations[-l-1].transpose())
return (nabla_b, nabla_w)
...
def cost_derivative(self, output_activations, y):
"""Return the vector of partial derivatives \partial C_x /
\partial a for the output activations."""
return (output_activations-y)
def sigmoid(z):
"""The sigmoid function."""
return 1.0/(1.0+np.exp(-z))
def sigmoid_prime(z):
"""Derivative of the sigmoid function."""
return sigmoid(z)*(1-sigmoid(z))
Problem
Fully matrix-based approach to backpropagation
over a mini-batch Our implementation of stochastic
gradient descent loops over training examples in a mini-
batch. It's possible to modify the backpropagation
algorithm so that it computes the gradients for all training
examples in a mini-batch simultaneously. The idea is that
instead of beginning with a single input vector, , we can
begin with a matrix whose columns are
the vectors in the mini-batch. We forward-propagate by
multiplying by the weight matrices, adding a suitable
matrix for the bias terms, and applying the sigmoid
function everywhere. We backpropagate along similar
lines. Explicitly write out pseudocode for this approach to
the backpropagation algorithm. Modify network.py so that
it uses this fully matrix-based approach. The advantage of
this approach is that it takes full advantage of modern
x
X = [ ]
x
1
x
2
x
m libraries for linear algebra. As a result it can be quite a bit
faster than looping over the mini-batch. (On my laptop, for
example, the speedup is about a factor of two when run on
MNIST classification problems like those we considered in
the last chapter.) In practice, all serious libraries for
backpropagation use this fully matrix-based approach or
some variant.
In what sense is backpropagation a
fast algorithm?
In what sense is backpropagation a fast algorithm? To answer
this question, let's consider another approach to computing the
gradient. Imagine it's the early days of neural networks
research. Maybe it's the 1950s or 1960s, and you're the first
person in the world to think of using gradient descent to learn!
But to make the idea work you need a way of computing the
of calculus, and decide to see if you can use the chain rule to
compute the gradient. But after playing around a bit, the
algebra looks complicated, and you get discouraged. So you try
to find another approach. You decide to regard the cost as a
function of the weights alone (we'll get back to the
biases in a moment). You number the weights , and
want to compute for some particular weight . An
obvious way of doing that is to use the approximation
where is a small positive number, and is the unit vector
in the direction. In other words, we can estimate by
computing the cost for two slightly different values of , and
then applying Equation (46). The same idea will let us compute
the partial derivatives with respect to the biases.
This approach looks very promising. It's simple conceptually,
and extremely easy to implement, using just a few lines of code.
Certainly, it looks much more promising than the idea of using
the chain rule to compute the gradient!
Unfortunately, while this approach appears promising, when
you implement the code it turns out to be extremely slow. To
understand why, imagine we have a million weights in our
C = C(w)
, ,
w
1
w
2
C/
w
j
w
j
,
C
w
j
C(w + ϵ ) C(w)
e
j
ϵ
(46)
ϵ > 0
e
j
j
th
C/
w
j
C
w
j
C/b network. Then for each distinct weight we need to compute
in order to compute . That means that to
compute the gradient we need to compute the cost function a
million different times, requiring a million forward passes
through the network (per training example). We need to
compute as well, so that's a total of a million and one
passes through the network.
What's clever about backpropagation is that it enables us to
simultaneously compute all the partial derivatives using
just one forward pass through the network, followed by one
backward pass through the network. Roughly speaking, the
computational cost of the backward pass is about the same as
the forward pass*
*This should be plausible, but it requires some analysis to make a careful
statement. It's plausible because the dominant computational cost in the
forward pass is multiplying by the weight matrices, while in the backward pass
it's multiplying by the transposes of the weight matrices. These operations
obviously have similar computational cost.
. And so the total cost of backpropagation is roughly the same
as making just two forward passes through the network.
Compare that to the million and one forward passes we needed
for the approach based on (46)! And so even though
backpropagation appears superficially more complex than the
approach based on (46), it's actually much, much faster.
This speedup was first fully appreciated in 1986, and it greatly
expanded the range of problems that neural networks could
solve. That, in turn, caused a rush of people using neural
networks. Of course, backpropagation is not a panacea. Even in
the late 1980s people ran up against limits, especially when
attempting to use backpropagation to train deep neural
networks, i.e., networks with many hidden layers. Later in the
book we'll see how modern computers and some clever new
ideas now make it possible to use backpropagation to train
such deep neural networks.
Backpropagation: the big picture
As I've explained it, backpropagation presents two mysteries.
First, what's the algorithm really doing? We've developed a
picture of the error being backpropagated from the output. But
can we go any deeper, and build up more intuition about what
w
j
C(w + ϵ )
e
j
C/
w
j
C(w)
C/
w
j