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Neural Networks – An Overview

  • Amruta Bhaskar
  • Mar 18, 2021
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Recently there has been a great buzz around the words “neural network” in the field of computer science and it has attracted a great deal of attention from many people. Essentially, neural networks are composed of layers of computational units called neurons, with connections in different layers. These networks transform data until they can classify it as an output. Each neuron multiplies an initial value by some weight, sums results with other values coming into the same neuron, adjusts the resulting number by the neuron’s bias, and then normalizes the output with an activation function.

A neural network is a series of algorithms that endeavours to recognize underlying relationships in a set of data through a process that mimics the way the human brain operates. In this sense, neural networks refer to systems of neurons, either organic or artificial. Neural networks can adapt to changing input; so the network generates the best possible result without needing to redesign the output criteria. The concept of neural networks, which has its roots in artificial intelligence, is swiftly gaining popularity in the development of trading systems.

In the past 10 years, the best-performing artificial-intelligence systems — such as the speech recognizers on smartphones or Google’s latest automatic translator — have resulted from a technique called “deep learning.”

Deep learning is a new name for an approach to artificial intelligence called neural networks, which have been going in and out of fashion for more than 70 years. Neural networks were first proposed in 1944 by Warren McCullough and Walter Pitts, two University of Chicago researchers who moved to MIT in 1952 as founding members of what’s sometimes called the first cognitive science department.

Neural nets were a major area of research in both neuroscience and computer science until 1969, when, according to computer science lore, they were killed off by the MIT mathematicians Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert, who a year later would become co-directors of the new MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

The technique then enjoyed a resurgence in the 1980s, fell into eclipse again in the first decade of the new century, and has returned like gangbusters in the second, fueled largely by the increased processing power of graphics chips.

Neural networks, in the world of finance, assist in the development of such process as time-series forecasting, algorithmic trading, securities classification, credit risk modelling and constructing proprietary indicators and price derivatives.

A neural network works similarly to the human brain’s neural network. A “neuron” in a neural network is a mathematical function that collects and classifies information according to a specific architecture. The network bears a strong resemblance to statistical methods such as curve fitting and regression analysis.

A neural network contains layers of interconnected nodes. Each node is a perceptron and is similar to multiple linear regression. The perceptron feeds the signal produced by a multiple linear regression into an activation function that may be nonlinear.

In a multi-layered perceptron (MLP), perceptrons are arranged in interconnected layers. The input layer collects input patterns. The output layer has classifications or output signals to which input patterns may map. For instance, the patterns may comprise a list of quantities for technical indicators about security; potential outputs could be “buy,” “hold” or “sell.”

Hidden layers fine-tune the input weightings until the neural network’s margin of error is minimal. It is hypothesized that hidden layers extrapolate salient features in the input data that have predictive power regarding the outputs. This describes feature extraction, which accomplishes a utility similar to statistical techniques such as principal component analysis.

Deep-learning networks are distinguished from the more commonplace single-hidden-layer neural networks by their depth; that is, the number of node layers through which data must pass in a multistep process of pattern recognition.

Earlier versions of neural networks such as the first perceptrons were shallow, composed of one input and one output layer, and at most one hidden layer in between. More than three layers (including input and output) qualifies as “deep” learning. So deep is not just a buzzword to make algorithms seem like they read Sartre and listen to bands you haven’t heard of yet. It is a strictly defined term that means more than one hidden layer.

In deep-learning networks, each layer of nodes trains on a distinct set of features based on the previous layer’s output. The further you advance into the neural net, the more complex the features your nodes can recognize since they aggregate and recombine features from the previous layer.

A major misconception is that neural networks can provide a forecasting tool that can offer advice on how to act in a particular market situation. Neural networks do not make any forecasts. Instead, they analyze price data and uncover opportunities.

Using a neural network, you can make a trade decision based on thoroughly examined data, which is not necessarily the case when using traditional technical analysis methods. For a serious, thinking trader, neural networks are a next-generation tool with great potential that can detect subtle non-linear interdependencies and patterns that other methods of technical analysis are unable to uncover.

Neural networks are broadly used for real-world business problems such as sales forecasting, customer research, data validation, and risk management.

  • Marketing

Target marketing involves market segmentation, where we divide the market into distinct groups of customers with different consumer behaviour.

Neural networks are well-equipped to carry this out by segmenting customers according to basic characteristics including demographics, economic status, location, purchase patterns, and attitude towards a product. Unsupervised neural networks can be used to automatically group and segment customers based on the similarity of their characteristics, while supervised neural networks can be trained to learn the boundaries between customer segments based on a group of customers.

  • Retail & Sales

Neural networks have the ability to simultaneously consider multiple variables such as market demand for a product, a customer’s income, population, and product price. Forecasting of sales in supermarkets can be of great advantage here.

If there is a relationship between two products over time, say within 3–4 months of buying a printer the customer returns to buy a new cartridge, then retailers can use this information to contact the customer, decreasing the chance that the customer will purchase the product from a competitor.

  • Banking & Finance

Neural networks have been applied successfully to problems like derivative securities pricing and hedging, futures price forecasting, exchange rate forecasting, and stock performance. Traditionally, statistical techniques have driven the software. These days, however, neural networks are the underlying technologies driving decision making.

  • Medicine

It is a trending research area in medicine and it is believed that they will receive extensive application to biomedical systems in the next few years. At the moment, the research is mostly on modelling parts of the human body and recognizing diseases from various scans.

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