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A Theoretical Framework for Inference and Learning in Predictive Coding Networks

Beren Millidge‚ Yuhang Song‚ Tommaso Salvatori‚ Thomas Lukasiewicz and Rafal Bogacz


Predictive coding (PC) is an influential theory in computational neuroscience, which argues that the cortex forms unsupervised world models by implementing a hierarchical process of prediction error minimization. PC networks (PCNs) are trained in two phases. First, neural activities are updated to optimize the network's response to external stimuli. Second, synaptic weights are updated to consolidate this change in activity — an algorithm called prospective configuration. While previous work has shown how in various limits, PCNs can be found to approximate backpropagation (BP), recent work has demonstrated that PCNs operating in this standard regime, which does not approximate BP, nevertheless obtain competitive training and generalization performance to BP-trained networks while outperforming them on tasks such as online, few-shot, and continual learning, where brains are known to excel. Despite this promising empirical performance, little is understood theoretically about the properties and dynamics of PCNs in this regime. In this paper, we provide a comprehensive theoretical analysis of the properties of PCNs trained with prospective configuration. We first derive analytical results concerning the inference equilibrium for PCNs and a previously unknown close connection relationship to target propagation (TP). Secondly, we provide a theoretical analysis of learning in PCNs as a variant of generalized expectation-maximization and use that to prove the convergence of PCNs to critical points of the BP loss function, thus showing that deep PCNs can, in theory, achieve the same generalization performance as BP, while maintaining their unique advantages.

Book Title
Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Learning Representations‚ ICLR 2023‚ Kigali‚ Rwanda‚ 1–5 May 2023