The formation of structure in the visual system, that is, of the connections between cells within neural populations, is by and large an unsupervised learning process. In the primary visual cortex of mammals, for example, one can observe during development the formation of cells selective to localized, oriented features, which results in the development of a representation in area V1 of images’ edges. This can be modeled using a sparse Hebbian learning algorithms which alternate a coding step to encode the information with a learning step to find the proper encoder. A major difficulty of such algorithms is the joint problem of finding a good representation while knowing immature encoders, and to learn good encoders with a nonoptimal representation. To solve this problem, this work introduces a new regulation process between learning and coding which is motivated by the homeostasis processes observed in biology. Such an optimal homeostasis rule is implemented by including an adaptation mechanism based on nonlinear functions that balance the antagonistic processes that occur at the coding and learning time scales. It is compatible with a neuromimetic architecture and allows for a more efficient emergence of localized filters sensitive to orientation. In addition, this homeostasis rule is simplified by implementing a simple heuristic on the probability of activation of neurons. Compared to the optimal homeostasis rule, numerical simulations show that this heuristic allows to implement a faster unsupervised learning algorithm while retaining much of its effectiveness. These results demonstrate the potential application of such a strategy in machine learning and this is illustrated by showing the effect of homeostasis in the emergence of edge-like filters for a convolutional neural network.
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