# 6.2: Convolutional neural networks in practice

We've now seen the core ideas behind convolutional neural networks. Let's look at how they work in practice, by implementing some convolutional networks, and applying them to the MNIST digit classification problem. The program we'll use to do this is called network3.py, and it's an improved version of the programsnetwork.py and network2.py developed in earlier chapters**Note also that network3.py incorporates ideas from the Theano library's documentation on convolutional neural nets (notably the implementation of LeNet-5), from Misha Denil'simplementation of dropout, and from Chris Olah.

If you wish to follow along, the code is available on GitHub. Note that we'll work through the code for network3.py itself in the next section. In this section, we'll use network3.py as a library to build convolutional networks.

The programs network.py and network2.py were implemented using Python and the matrix library Numpy. Those programs worked from first principles, and got right down into the details of backpropagation, stochastic gradient descent, and so on. But now that we understand those details, for network3.py we're going to use a machine learning library known as Theano*

*See Theano: A CPU and GPU Math Expression Compiler in Python, by James Bergstra, Olivier Breuleux, Frederic Bastien, Pascal Lamblin, Ravzan Pascanu, Guillaume Desjardins, Joseph Turian, David Warde-Farley, and Yoshua Bengio (2010). Theano is also the basis for the popular Pylearn2 and Keras neural networks libraries. Other popular neural nets libraries at the time of this writing include Caffe and Torch.

Using Theano makes it easy to implement backpropagation for convolutional neural networks, since it automatically computes all the mappings involved. Theano is also quite a bit faster than our earlier code (which was written to be easy to understand, not fast), and this makes it practical to train more complex networks. In particular, one great feature of Theano is that it can run code on either a CPU or, if available, a GPU. Running on a GPU provides a substantial speedup and, again, helps make it practical to train more complex networks.

If you wish to follow along, then you'll need to get Theano running on your system. To install Theano, follow the instructions at the project's homepage. The examples which follow were run using Theano 0.6*

*As I release this chapter, the current version of Theano has changed to version 0.7. I've actually rerun the examples under Theano 0.7 and get extremely similar results to those reported in the text.

Some were run under Mac OS X Yosemite, with no GPU. Some were run on Ubuntu 14.04, with an NVIDIA GPU. And some of the experiments were run under both. To get network3.py running you'll need to set the GPU flag to either True or False (as appropriate) in the network3.py source. Beyond that, to get Theano up and running on a GPU you may find the instructions here helpful. There are also tutorials on the web, easily found using Google, which can help you get things working. If you don't have a GPU available locally, then you may wish to look into Amazon Web Services EC2 G2 spot instances. Note that even with a GPU the code will take some time to execute. Many of the experiments take from minutes to hours to run. On a CPU it may take days to run the most complex of the experiments. As in earlier chapters, I suggest setting things running, and continuing to read, occasionally coming back to check the output from the code. If you're using a CPU, you may wish to reduce the number of training epochs for the more complex experiments, or perhaps omit them entirely.

To get a baseline, we'll start with a shallow architecture using just a single hidden layer, containing $$100$$ hidden neurons. We'll train for $$60$$ epochs, using a learning rate of $$η=0.1$$, a mini-batch size of $$10$$, and no regularization. Here we go*

*Code for the experiments in this section may be found in this script. Note that the code in the script simply duplicates and parallels the discussion in this section.

Note also that throughout the section I've explicitly specified the number of training epochs. I've done this for clarity about how we're training. In practice, it's worth using early stopping, that is, tracking accuracy on the validation set, and stopping training when we are confident the validation accuracy has stopped improving.:

>>> import network3
>>> from network3 import Network
>>> from network3 import ConvPoolLayer, FullyConnectedLayer, SoftmaxLayer
>>> training_data, validation_data, test_data = network3.load_data_shared()
>>> mini_batch_size = 10
>>> net = Network([
FullyConnectedLayer(n_in=784, n_out=100),
SoftmaxLayer(n_in=100, n_out=10)], mini_batch_size)
>>> net.SGD(training_data, 60, mini_batch_size, 0.1,
validation_data, test_data)


I obtained a best classification accuracy of $$97.80$$ percent. This is the classification accuracy on the test_data, evaluated at the training epoch where we get the best classification accuracy on thevalidation_data. Using the validation data to decide when to evaluate the test accuracy helps avoid overfitting to the test data (see this earlier discussion of the use of validation data). We will follow this practice below. Your results may vary slightly, since the network's weights and biases are randomly initialized*

*In fact, in this experiment I actually did three separate runs training a network with this architecture. I then reported the test accuracy which corresponded to the best validation accuracy from any of the three runs. Using multiple runs helps reduce variation in results, which is useful when comparing many architectures, as we are doing. I've followed this procedure below, except where noted. In practice, it made little difference to the results obtained.

This $$97.80$$ percent accuracy is close to the 98.0498.04 percent accuracy obtained back in Chapter 3, using a similar network architecture and learning hyper-parameters. In particular, both examples used a shallow network, with a single hidden layer containing $$100$$ hidden neurons. Both also trained for $$60$$ epochs, used a mini-batch size of $$10$$, and a learning rate of $$η=0.1$$.

There were, however, two differences in the earlier network. First, we regularized the earlier network, to help reduce the effects of overfitting. Regularizing the current network does improve the accuracies, but the gain is only small, and so we'll hold off worrying about regularization until later. Second, while the final layer in the earlier network used sigmoid activations and the cross-entropy cost function, the current network uses a softmax final layer, and the log-likelihood cost function. As explained in Chapter 3 this isn't a big change. I haven't made this switch for any particularly deep reason - mostly, I've done it because softmax plus log-likelihood cost is more common in modern image classification networks.

Can we do better than these results using a deeper network architecture?

Let's begin by inserting a convolutional layer, right at the beginning of the network. We'll use $$5$$ by $$5$$ local receptive fields, a stride length of $$1$$, and $$20$$ feature maps. We'll also insert a max-pooling layer, which combines the features using $$2$$ by $$2$$ pooling windows. So the overall network architecture looks much like the architecture discussed in the last section, but with an extra fully-connected layer:

In this architecture, we can think of the convolutional and pooling layers as learning about local spatial structure in the input training image, while the later, fully-connected layer learns at a more abstract level, integrating global information from across the entire image. This is a common pattern in convolutional neural networks.

Let's train such a network, and see how it performs**I've continued to use a mini-batch size of 1010here. In fact, as we discussed earlier it may be possible to speed up training using larger mini-batches. I've continued to use the same mini-batch size mostly for consistency with the experiments in earlier chapters.:

>>> net = Network([
ConvPoolLayer(image_shape=(mini_batch_size, 1, 28, 28),
filter_shape=(20, 1, 5, 5),
poolsize=(2, 2)),
FullyConnectedLayer(n_in=20*12*12, n_out=100),
SoftmaxLayer(n_in=100, n_out=10)], mini_batch_size)
>>> net.SGD(training_data, 60, mini_batch_size, 0.1,
validation_data, test_data)


That gets us to $$98.78$$ percent accuracy, which is a considerable improvement over any of our previous results. Indeed, we've reduced our error rate by better than a third, which is a great improvement.

In specifying the network structure, I've treated the convolutional and pooling layers as a single layer. Whether they're regarded as separate layers or as a single layer is to some extent a matter of taste. network3.py treats them as a single layer because it makes the code for network3.py a little more compact. However, it is easy to modify network3.py so the layers can be specified separately, if desired.

## Exercise

• What classification accuracy do you get if you omit the fully-connected layer, and just use the convolutional-pooling layer and softmax layer? Does the inclusion of the fully-connected layer help?

Can we improve on the $$98.78$$ percent classification accuracy?

Let's try inserting a second convolutional-pooling layer. We'll make the insertion between the existing convolutional-pooling layer and the fully-connected hidden layer. Again, we'll use a $$5×5$$ local receptive field, and pool over $$2×2$$ regions. Let's see what happens when we train using similar hyper-parameters to before:

>>> net = Network([
ConvPoolLayer(image_shape=(mini_batch_size, 1, 28, 28),
filter_shape=(20, 1, 5, 5),
poolsize=(2, 2)),
ConvPoolLayer(image_shape=(mini_batch_size, 20, 12, 12),
filter_shape=(40, 20, 5, 5),
poolsize=(2, 2)),
FullyConnectedLayer(n_in=40*4*4, n_out=100),
SoftmaxLayer(n_in=100, n_out=10)], mini_batch_size)
>>> net.SGD(training_data, 60, mini_batch_size, 0.1,
validation_data, test_data)


Once again, we get an improvement: we're now at $$99.06$$ percent classification accuracy!

There's two natural questions to ask at this point. The first question is: what does it even mean to apply a second convolutional-pooling layer? In fact, you can think of the second convolutional-pooling layer as having as input $$12×12$$ "images", whose "pixels" represent the presence (or absence) of particular localized features in the original input image. So you can think of this layer as having as input a version of the original input image. That version is abstracted and condensed, but still has a lot of spatial structure, and so it makes sense to use a second convolutional-pooling layer.

That's a satisfying point of view, but gives rise to a second question. The output from the previous layer involves $$20$$ separate feature maps, and so there are $$20×12×12$$ inputs to the second convolutional-pooling layer. It's as though we've got $$20$$ separate images input to the convolutional-pooling layer, not a single image, as was the case for the first convolutional-pooling layer. How should neurons in the second convolutional-pooling layer respond to these multiple input images? In fact, we'll allow each neuron in this layer to learn from all $$20×5×5$$ input neurons in its local receptive field. More informally: the feature detectors in the second convolutional-pooling layer have access to all the features from the previous layer, but only within their particular local receptive field*

*This issue would have arisen in the first layer if the input images were in color. In that case we'd have 3 input features for each pixel, corresponding to red, green and blue channels in the input image. So we'd allow the feature detectors to have access to all color information, but only within a given local receptive field.

## Problem

• Using the tanh activation function Several times earlier in the book I've mentioned arguments that the tanh function may be a better activation function than the sigmoid function. We've never acted on those suggestions, since we were already making plenty of progress with the sigmoid. But now let's try some experiments with tanh as our activation function. Try training the network with tanh activations in the convolutional and fully-connected layers**Note that you can pass activation_fn=tanh as a parameter to the ConvPoolLayer and FullyConnectedLayer classes.

Begin with the same hyper-parameters as for the sigmoid network, but train for $$20$$ epochs instead of $$60$$. How well does your network perform? What if you continue out to $$60$$ epochs? Try plotting the per-epoch validation accuracies for both tanh- and sigmoid-based networks, all the way out to $$60$$ epochs. If your results are similar to mine, you'll find the tanh networks train a little faster, but the final accuracies are very similar. Can you explain why the tanh network might train faster? Can you get a similar training speed with the sigmoid, perhaps by changing the learning rate, or doing some rescaling*

*You may perhaps find inspiration in recalling that $$σ(z)=(1+tanh(z/2))/2$$.? Try a half-dozen iterations on the learning hyper-parameters or network architecture, searching for ways that tanh may be superior to the sigmoid. Note: This is an open-ended problem. Personally, I did not find much advantage in switching to tanh, although I haven't experimented exhaustively, and perhaps you may find a way. In any case, in a moment we will find an advantage in switching to the rectified linear activation function, and so we won't go any deeper into the use of tanh.

Using rectified linear units: The network we've developed at this point is actually a variant of one of the networks used in the seminal 1998 paper*

*"Gradient-based learning applied to document recognition", by Yann LeCun, Léon Bottou, Yoshua Bengio, and Patrick Haffner (1998). There are many differences of detail, but broadly speaking our network is quite similar to the networks described in the paper. introducing the MNIST problem, a network known as LeNet-5. It's a good foundation for further experimentation, and for building up understanding and intuition. In particular, there are many ways we can vary the network in an attempt to improve our results.

As a beginning, let's change our neurons so that instead of using a sigmoid activation function, we use rectified linear units. That is, we'll use the activation function $$f(z)≡max(0,z)$$. We'll train for $$60$$ epochs, with a learning rate of $$η=0.03$$. I also found that it helps a little to use some l2 regularization, with regularization parameter $$λ=0.1$$:

>>> from network3 import ReLU
>>> net = Network([
ConvPoolLayer(image_shape=(mini_batch_size, 1, 28, 28),
filter_shape=(20, 1, 5, 5),
poolsize=(2, 2),
activation_fn=ReLU),
ConvPoolLayer(image_shape=(mini_batch_size, 20, 12, 12),
filter_shape=(40, 20, 5, 5),
poolsize=(2, 2),
activation_fn=ReLU),
FullyConnectedLayer(n_in=40*4*4, n_out=100, activation_fn=ReLU),
SoftmaxLayer(n_in=100, n_out=10)], mini_batch_size)
>>> net.SGD(training_data, 60, mini_batch_size, 0.03,
validation_data, test_data, lmbda=0.1)


I obtained a classification accuracy of $$99.23$$ percent. It's a modest improvement over the sigmoid results $$(99.06)$$. However, across all my experiments I found that networks based on rectified linear units consistently outperformed networks based on sigmoid activation functions. There appears to be a real gain in moving to rectified linear units for this problem.

What makes the rectified linear activation function better than the sigmoid or tanh functions? At present, we have a poor understanding of the answer to this question. Indeed, rectified linear units have only begun to be widely used in the past few years. The reason for that recent adoption is empirical: a few people tried rectified linear units, often on the basis of hunches or heuristic arguments*

*A common justification is that $$max(0,z)$$ doesn't saturate in the limit of large $$z$$, unlike sigmoid neurons, and this helps rectified linear units continue learning. The argument is fine, as far it goes, but it's hardly a detailed justification, more of a just-so story. Note that we discussed the problems with saturation back in Chapter 2.They got good results classifying benchmark data sets, and the practice has spread. In an ideal world we'd have a theory telling us which activation function to pick for which application. But at present we're a long way from such a world. I should not be at all surprised if further major improvements can be obtained by an even better choice of activation function. And I also expect that in coming decades a powerful theory of activation functions will be developed. Today, we still have to rely on poorly understood rules of thumb and experience.

Expanding the training data: Another way we may hope to improve our results is by algorithmically expanding the training data. A simple way of expanding the training data is to displace each training image by a single pixel, either up one pixel, down one pixel, left one pixel, or right one pixel. We can do this by running the program expand_mnist.py from the shell prompt*

*The code for expand_mnist.py is available here.:


\$ python expand_mnist.py


Running this program takes the $$50,000$$ MNIST training images, and prepares an expanded training set, with $$250,000$$ training images. We can then use those training images to train our network. We'll use the same network as above, with rectified linear units. In my initial experiments I reduced the number of training epochs - this made sense, since we're training with $$5$$ times as much data. But, in fact, expanding the data turned out to considerably reduce the effect of overfitting. And so, after some experimentation, I eventually went back to training for $$60$$ epochs. In any case, let's train:

>>> expanded_training_data, _, _ = network3.load_data_shared(
"../data/mnist_expanded.pkl.gz")
>>> net = Network([
ConvPoolLayer(image_shape=(mini_batch_size, 1, 28, 28),
filter_shape=(20, 1, 5, 5),
poolsize=(2, 2),
activation_fn=ReLU),
ConvPoolLayer(image_shape=(mini_batch_size, 20, 12, 12),
filter_shape=(40, 20, 5, 5),
poolsize=(2, 2),
activation_fn=ReLU),
FullyConnectedLayer(n_in=40*4*4, n_out=100, activation_fn=ReLU),
SoftmaxLayer(n_in=100, n_out=10)], mini_batch_size)
>>> net.SGD(expanded_training_data, 60, mini_batch_size, 0.03,
validation_data, test_data, lmbda=0.1)


Using the expanded training data I obtained a $$99.37$$ percent training accuracy. So this almost trivial change gives a substantial improvement in classification accuracy. Indeed, as we discussed earlier this idea of algorithmically expanding the data can be taken further. Just to remind you of the flavour of some of the results in that earlier discussion: in 2003 Simard, Steinkraus and Platt*

*Best Practices for Convolutional Neural Networks Applied to Visual Document Analysis, by Patrice Simard, Dave Steinkraus, and John Platt (2003).improved their MNIST performance to $$99.6$$ percent using a neural network otherwise very similar to ours, using two convolutional-pooling layers, followed by a hidden fully-connected layer with $$100$$ neurons. There were a few differences of detail in their architecture - they didn't have the advantage of using rectified linear units, for instance - but the key to their improved performance was expanding the training data. They did this by rotating, translating, and skewing the MNIST training images. They also developed a process of "elastic distortion", a way of emulating the random oscillations hand muscles undergo when a person is writing. By combining all these processes they substantially increased the effective size of their training data, and that's how they achieved $$99.6$$ percent accuracy.

## Problem

• The idea of convolutional layers is to behave in an invariant way across images. It may seem surprising, then, that our network can learn more when all we've done is translate the input data. Can you explain why this is actually quite reasonable?

Inserting an extra fully-connected layer: Can we do even better? One possibility is to use exactly the same procedure as above, but to expand the size of the fully-connected layer. I tried with $$300$$ and $$1,000$$ neurons, obtaining results of $$99.46$$ and $$99.43$$ percent, respectively. That's interesting, but not really a convincing win over the earlier result ($$99.37$$ percent).

What about adding an extra fully-connected layer? Let's try inserting an extra fully-connected layer, so that we have two $$100$$-hidden neuron fully-connected layers:

>>> net = Network([
ConvPoolLayer(image_shape=(mini_batch_size, 1, 28, 28),
filter_shape=(20, 1, 5, 5),
poolsize=(2, 2),
activation_fn=ReLU),
ConvPoolLayer(image_shape=(mini_batch_size, 20, 12, 12),
filter_shape=(40, 20, 5, 5),
poolsize=(2, 2),
activation_fn=ReLU),
FullyConnectedLayer(n_in=40*4*4, n_out=100, activation_fn=ReLU),
FullyConnectedLayer(n_in=100, n_out=100, activation_fn=ReLU),
SoftmaxLayer(n_in=100, n_out=10)], mini_batch_size)
>>> net.SGD(expanded_training_data, 60, mini_batch_size, 0.03,
validation_data, test_data, lmbda=0.1)


Doing this, I obtained a test accuracy of $$99.43$$ percent. Again, the expanded net isn't helping so much. Running similar experiments with fully-connected layers containing $$300$$ and $$1,000$$ neurons yields results of $$99.48$$ and $$99.47$$ percent. That's encouraging, but still falls short of a really decisive win.

What's going on here? Is it that the expanded or extra fully-connected layers really don't help with MNIST? Or might it be that our network has the capacity to do better, but we're going about learning the wrong way? For instance, maybe we could use stronger regularization techniques to reduce the tendency to overfit. One possibility is the dropout technique introduced back in Chapter 3. Recall that the basic idea of dropout is to remove individual activations at random while training the network. This makes the model more robust to the loss of individual pieces of evidence, and thus less likely to rely on particular idiosyncracies of the training data. Let's try applying dropout to the final fully-connected layers:

>>> net = Network([
ConvPoolLayer(image_shape=(mini_batch_size, 1, 28, 28),
filter_shape=(20, 1, 5, 5),
poolsize=(2, 2),
activation_fn=ReLU),
ConvPoolLayer(image_shape=(mini_batch_size, 20, 12, 12),
filter_shape=(40, 20, 5, 5),
poolsize=(2, 2),
activation_fn=ReLU),
FullyConnectedLayer(
n_in=40*4*4, n_out=1000, activation_fn=ReLU, p_dropout=0.5),
FullyConnectedLayer(
n_in=1000, n_out=1000, activation_fn=ReLU, p_dropout=0.5),
SoftmaxLayer(n_in=1000, n_out=10, p_dropout=0.5)],
mini_batch_size)
>>> net.SGD(expanded_training_data, 40, mini_batch_size, 0.03,
validation_data, test_data)


Using this, we obtain an accuracy of $$99.60$$ percent, which is a substantial improvement over our earlier results, especially our main benchmark, the network with 100100 hidden neurons, where we achieved $$99.37$$ percent.

There are two changes worth noting.

First, I reduced the number of training epochs to $$40$$: dropout reduced overfitting, and so we learned faster.

Second, the fully-connected hidden layers have $$1,000$$ neurons, not the $$100$$ used earlier. Of course, dropout effectively omits many of the neurons while training, so some expansion is to be expected. In fact, I tried experiments with both $$300$$ and $$1,000$$ hidden neurons, and obtained (very slightly) better validation performance with $$1,000$$ hidden neurons.

Using an ensemble of networks: An easy way to improve performance still further is to create several neural networks, and then get them to vote to determine the best classification. Suppose, for example, that we trained $$5$$ different neural networks using the prescription above, with each achieving accuracies near to $$99.6$$ percent. Even though the networks would all have similar accuracies, they might well make different errors, due to the different random initializations. It's plausible that taking a vote amongst our $$5$$ networks might yield a classification better than any individual network.

This sounds too good to be true, but this kind of ensembling is a common trick with both neural networks and other machine learning techniques. And it does in fact yield further improvements: we end up with $$99.67$$ percent accuracy. In other words, our ensemble of networks classifies all but $$33$$ of the $$10,000$$ test images correctly.

The remaining errors in the test set are shown below. The label in the top right is the correct classification, according to the MNIST data, while in the bottom right is the label output by our ensemble of nets:

It's worth looking through these in detail. The first two digits, a 6 and a 5, are genuine errors by our ensemble. However, they're also understandable errors, the kind a human could plausibly make. That 6 really does look a lot like a 0, and the 5 looks a lot like a 3. The third image, supposedly an 8, actually looks to me more like a 9. So I'm siding with the network ensemble here: I think it's done a better job than whoever originally drew the digit. On the other hand, the fourth image, the 6, really does seem to be classified badly by our networks.

And so on. In most cases our networks' choices seem at least plausible, and in some cases they've done a better job classifying than the original person did writing the digit. Overall, our networks offer exceptional performance, especially when you consider that they correctly classified 9,967 images which aren't shown. In that context, the few clear errors here seem quite understandable. Even a careful human makes the occasional mistake. And so I expect that only an extremely careful and methodical human would do much better. Our network is getting near to human performance.

Why we only applied dropout to the fully-connected layers: If you look carefully at the code above, you'll notice that we applied dropout only to the fully-connected section of the network, not to the convolutional layers. In principle we could apply a similar procedure to the convolutional layers. But, in fact, there's no need: the convolutional layers have considerable inbuilt resistance to overfitting. The reason is that the shared weights mean that convolutional filters are forced to learn from across the entire image. This makes them less likely to pick up on local idiosyncracies in the training data. And so there is less need to apply other regularizers, such as dropout.

Going further: It's possible to improve performance on MNIST still further. Rodrigo Benenson has compiled an informative summary page, showing progress over the years, with links to papers. Many of these papers use deep convolutional networks along lines similar to the networks we've been using. If you dig through the papers you'll find many interesting techniques, and you may enjoy implementing some of them. If you do so it's wise to start implementation with a simple network that can be trained quickly, which will help you more rapidly understand what is going on.

For the most part, I won't try to survey this recent work. But I can't resist making one exception. It's a 2010 paper by Cireșan, Meier, Gambardella, and Schmidhuber*

*Deep, Big, Simple Neural Nets Excel on Handwritten Digit Recognition, by Dan Claudiu Cireșan, Ueli Meier, Luca Maria Gambardella, and Jürgen Schmidhuber (2010).

What I like about this paper is how simple it is. The network is a many-layer neural network, using only fully-connected layers (no convolutions). Their most successful network had hidden layers containing $$2,500, 2,000, 1,500, 1,000, and 500$$ neurons, respectively. They used ideas similar to Simard et al to expand their training data. But apart from that, they used few other tricks, including no convolutional layers: it was a plain, vanilla network, of the kind that, with enough patience, could have been trained in the 1980s (if the MNIST data set had existed), given enough computing power. They achieved a classification accuracy of $$99.65$$ percent, more or less the same as ours. The key was to use a very large, very deep network, and to use a GPU to speed up training. This let them train for many epochs. They also took advantage of their long training times to gradually decrease the learning rate from $$10^{−3}$$ to $$10^{−6}$$. It's a fun exercise to try to match these results using an architecture like theirs.

Why are we able to train? We saw in the last chapter that there are fundamental obstructions to training in deep, many-layer neural networks. In particular, we saw that the gradient tends to be quite unstable: as we move from the output layer to earlier layers the gradient tends to either vanish (the vanishing gradient problem) or explode (the exploding gradient problem). Since the gradient is the signal we use to train, this causes problems.

How have we avoided those results?

Of course, the answer is that we haven't avoided these results. Instead, we've done a few things that help us proceed anyway. In particular: (1) Using convolutional layers greatly reduces the number of parameters in those layers, making the learning problem much easier; (2) Using more powerful regularization techniques (notably dropout and convolutional layers) to reduce overfitting, which is otherwise more of a problem in more complex networks; (3) Using rectified linear units instead of sigmoid neurons, to speed up training - empirically, often by a factor of $$3-5$$; (4) Using GPUs and being willing to train for a long period of time. In particular, in our final experiments we trained for $$40$$ epochs using a data set $$5$$ times larger than the raw MNIST training data. Earlier in the book we mostly trained for $$30$$ epochs using just the raw training data. Combining factors (3) and (4) it's as though we've trained a factor perhaps $$30$$ times longer than before.

Your response may be "Is that it? Is that all we had to do to train deep networks? What's all the fuss about?"

Of course, we've used other ideas, too: making use of sufficiently large data sets (to help avoid overfitting); using the right cost function (to avoid a learning slowdown); using good weight initializations (also to avoid a learning slowdown, due to neuron saturation); algorithmically expanding the training data. We discussed these and other ideas in earlier chapters, and have for the most part been able to reuse these ideas with little comment in this chapter.

With that said, this really is a rather simple set of ideas. Simple, but powerful, when used in concert. Getting started with deep learning has turned out to be pretty easy!

How deep are these networks, anyway? Counting the convolutional-pooling layers as single layers, our final architecture has $$4$$ hidden layers. Does such a network really deserve to be called a deep network? Of course, $$4$$ hidden layers is many more than in the shallow networks we studied earlier. Most of those networks only had a single hidden layer, or occasionally $$2$$ hidden layers. On the other hand, as of 2015 state-of-the-art deep networks sometimes have dozens of hidden layers. I've occasionally heard people adopt a deeper-than-thou attitude, holding that if you're not keeping-up-with-the-Joneses in terms of number of hidden layers, then you're not really doing deep learning. I'm not sympathetic to this attitude, in part because it makes the definition of deep learning into something which depends upon the result-of-the-moment. The real breakthrough in deep learning was to realize that it's practical to go beyond the shallow $$1-$$ and $$2-$$ hidden layer networks that dominated work until the mid-2000s. That really was a significant breakthrough, opening up the exploration of much more expressive models. But beyond that, the number of layers is not of primary fundamental interest. Rather, the use of deeper networks is a tool to use to help achieve other goals - like better classification accuracies.

A word on procedure: In this section, we've smoothly moved from single hidden-layer shallow networks to many-layer convolutional networks. It all seemed so easy! We make a change and, for the most part, we get an improvement. If you start experimenting, I can guarantee things won't always be so smooth. The reason is that I've presented a cleaned-up narrative, omitting many experiments - including many failed experiments. This cleaned-up narrative will hopefully help you get clear on the basic ideas. But it also runs the risk of conveying an incomplete impression. Getting a good, working network can involve a lot of trial and error, and occasional frustration. In practice, you should expect to engage in quite a bit of experimentation. To speed that process up you may find it helpful to revisit Chapter 3's discussion of how to choose a neural network's hyper-parameters, and perhaps also to look at some of the further reading suggested in that section.