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VS265: Neural Computation - Fall 2018

This course provides an introduction to the theory of neural computation. The goal is to familiarize students with the major theoretical frameworks and models used in neuroscience and psychology, and to provide hands-on experience in using these models. Topics include neural network models, supervised and unsupervised learning, associative memory models, recurrent networks, probabilistic/graphical models, and models of neural coding in the brain.

Instructor:  Bruno Olshausen, 570 Evans, office hours immediately after class

GSI:  Shariq Mobin, 560 Evans, office hours 2:30 – 4:00 pm on Mondays.

Lectures:  Tuesdays & Thursdays 3:30-5, 170 Barrows.

Grading:  based on weekly assignments (60%) and final project (40%)

  • Late homework will not be accepted but your lowest homework score will be dropped at the end of the semester
  • Each homework will be graded holistically out of 3 points:
    • 3: problems were done correctly aside from minor errors
    • 2: problems were attempted but some portions or concepts were missed
    • 1: something relevant was done but no clear direction or mostly incomplete
    • 0: problems were not attempted
  • You have 1 week to dispute your grade from the time they are released on bCourses
  • Final project guidelines:
    • 5 page report + poster or oral presentation at project presentation day, likely Dec. 11 or 12 of finals week.
    • You are encouraged to work in teams of 3-4 students.
    • The project itself may explore one of the lab assignments (but not limited to this) in more depth, either mathematically or computationally, or it can also be a critical analysis of the history of neural computation, or the prospects for how these approaches can be used to inform our understanding of the brain.


  • [HKP] Hertz, J. and Krogh, A. and Palmer, R.G. Introduction to the theory of neural computation. Amazon
  • [DJCM] MacKay, D.J.C. Information Theory, Inference and Learning Algorithms. Available online or Amazon
  • [DA] Dayan, P. and Abbott, L.F. Theoretical neuroscience: computational and mathematical modeling of neural systems. Amazon

Discussion forum:  We have established a Piazza site where students can ask questions or propose topics for discussion.



Aug. 23:  Introduction

Aug. 28, 30:  Neuron models

Sept. 4, 6:  Supervised learning

Sept. 11, 13, 18:  Unsupervised learning

Sept. 20, 25, 27:  Sparse, distributed coding

Oct. 2, 4:  Self-organizing maps

Oct. 9:  Manifold learning (Chen)

Oct. 11:  Reinforcement learning (Mobin)

  • Reward-based learning
  • Predicting future rewards via temporal-difference learning
  • Lecture slides

Oct. 16, 18, 23, 25:  Attractor neural networks

Oct. 30, Nov. 1, 6:  Probabilistic models and inference

Nov. 8:  Boltzmann machines

Nov. 13, 15:  Independent Components Analysis (ICA)

Nov. 27:  Dynamical models

Nov. 29:  Neural coding

Dec. 4, 6:  High-dimensional (HD) computing