Dendrites endow artificial neural networks with accurate, robust and parameter-efficient learning


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Artificial neural networks (ANNs) are at the core of most Deep learning (DL) algorithms that successfully tackle complex problems like image recognition, autonomous driving, and natural language processing. However, unlike biological brains who tackle similar problems in a very efficient manner, DL algorithms require a large number of trainable parameters, making them energy-intensive and prone to overfitting. Here, we show that a new ANN architecture that incorporates the structured connectivity and restricted sampling properties of biological dendrites counteracts these limitations. We find that dendritic ANNs are more robust to overfitting and outperform traditional ANNs on several image classification tasks while using significantly fewer trainable parameters. This is achieved through the adoption of a different learning strategy, whereby most of the nodes respond to several classes, unlike classical ANNs that strive for class-specificity. These findings suggest that the incorporation of dendrites can make learning in ANNs precise, resilient, and parameter-efficient and shed new light on how biological features can impact the learning strategies of ANNs.
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