CS 479/679
Neural Networks

Logo Welcome
Lecture Videos
Projects (CS 679 only)

Winter 2024

This course surveys how networks of neurons can perform computation. We will cover a variety of methods for designing and training neural networks. We will study some state-of-the-art methods for artificial neural networks, as well as some approaches that are guided by the biological constraints of the brain. We will look at both supervised and unsupervised learning, and methods to improve their performance.


Jeff Orchard



By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Write a program to simulation the activity of a network of neurons
  • Formulate a neural learning method as gradient-based optimization
  • Derive a neural learning method based on energy minimization
  • Encode and decode data from the activity of a population of neurons
  • Evaluate implementations, designs, and optimization strategies
  • Identify some commonalities between artificial neural networks and the brain


  • Theoretical Neuroscience, Dayan and Abbott, 2001 (UW library link)
  • Neural Networks and Deep Learning, Nielsen, 2017 (link)
  • Deep Learning, Goodfellow, Bengio and Courville, 2016 (link)
  • Neural Engineering, Eliasmith and Anderson, 2003: MIT Press.

Lecture Schedule

To be determined.

Evaluation (tentative)

The course will have several assignments, a midterm, and final exam. Assignments will involve programming in Python. The approximate grade breakdown is:

  • 45% Assignments
  • 15% Midterm Exam
  • 40% Final Assessment
    • Final exam for those taking CS 479, or
    • Project for those taking CS 679


  1. Background
    • Neuron models, spiking vs. firing-rate
    • Activation functions
    • Synapses
    • Networks of neurons
    • Learning: supervised/unsupervised/reinforcement
  2. Supervised Learning
    • Train, validation, testing
    • Universal approximation theorem
    • Cost functions
    • Gradient descent
    • Error backpropagation
    • Automatic differentiation
    • Overfitting and generalizability (regularization)
    • Optimization considerations (vanishing gradients, SGD)
    • Convolutiononal neural networks
    • Batch normalization
  3. Unsupervised Learning
    • Autoencoders
    • Variational autoencoders
    • Hopfield networks, Hopfield energy
  4. Population Coding
    • Optimal linear decoding
    • Transformations, dynamics
    • Online learning
  5. Recurrent Neural Networks
    • Backprop through time (BPTT)
    • Long short-term memory (LSTM)
    • Legendre delay networks (time-permitting)
  6. Adversarial Attacks
    • Targeted vs untargeted
    • FGSM
    • TRADES
  7. Advanced Topics (time permitting)
    • Vector embeddings
    • GANs
    • Biological backprop models