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Learning in Spiking Neural Networks

Davies, Sergio


Artificial neural network simulators are a research field which attracts the interest of researchers from various fields, from biology to computer science. The final objectives are the understanding of the mechanisms underlying the human brain, how to reproduce them in an artificial environment, and how drugs interact with them. Multiple neural models have been proposed, each with their peculiarities, from the very complex and biologically realistic Hodgkin-Huxley neuron model to the very simple "leaky integrate-and-fire" neuron. However, despite numerous attempts to understand the learning behaviour of the synapses, few models have been proposed. Spike-Timing-Dependent Plasticity (STDP) is one of the most relevant and biologically plausible models, and some variants (such as the triplet-based STDP rule) have been proposed to accommodate all biological observations. The research presented in this thesis focuses on a novel learning rule, based on the spike-pair STDP algorithm, which provides a statistical approach with the advantage of being less computationally expensive than the standard STDP rule, and is therefore suitable for its implementation on stand-alone computational units. The environment in which this research work has been carried out is the SpiNNaker project, which aims to provide a massively parallel computational substrate for neural simulation. To support such research, two other topics have been addressed: the first is a way to inject spikes into the SpiNNaker system through a non-real-time channel such as the Ethernet link, synchronising with the timing of the SpiNNaker system. The second research topic is focused on a way to route spikes in the SpiNNaker system based on populations of neurons. The three topics are presented in sequence after a brief introduction to the SpiNNaker project. Future work could include structural plasticity (also known as synaptic rewiring); here, during the simulation of neural networks on the SpiNNaker system, axons, dendrites and synapses may be grown or pruned according to biological observations.

The thesis is available as PDF (15MB).