Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 25 (NIPS 2012)
Jeff Beck, Alexandre Pouget, Katherine A. Heller
Recent experiments have demonstrated that humans and animals typically reason probabilistically about their environment. This ability requires a neural code that represents probability distributions and neural circuits that are capable of implementing the operations of probabilistic inference. The proposed probabilistic population coding (PPC) framework provides a statistically efficient neural representation of probability distributions that is both broadly consistent with physiological measurements and capable of implementing some of the basic operations of probabilistic inference in a biologically plausible way. However, these experiments and the corresponding neural models have largely focused on simple (tractable) probabilistic computations such as cue combination, coordinate transformations, and decision making. As a result it remains unclear how to generalize this framework to more complex probabilistic computations. Here we address this short coming by showing that a very general approximate inference algorithm known as Variational Bayesian Expectation Maximization can be implemented within the linear PPC framework. We apply this approach to a generic problem faced by any given layer of cortex, namely the identification of latent causes of complex mixtures of spikes. We identify a formal equivalent between this spike pattern demixing problem and topic models used for document classification, in particular Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA). We then construct a neural network implementation of variational inference and learning for LDA that utilizes a linear PPC. This network relies critically on two non-linear operations: divisive normalization and super-linear facilitation, both of which are ubiquitously observed in neural circuits. We also demonstrate how online learning can be achieved using a variation of Hebb’s rule and describe an extesion of this work which allows us to deal with time varying and correlated latent causes.