Online Spatio-Temporal Learning in Deep Neural Networks

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Biological neural networks are equipped with an inherent capability to continuously adapt through online learning. This aspect remains in stark contrast to learning with error backpropagation through time (BPTT) that involves offline computation of the gradients due to the need to unroll the network through time. Here we present an alternative online learning algorithm for deep spiking neural networks (SNNs), called online spatio-temporal learning (OSTL), which is based on insights from biology and a clear separation of spatial and temporal gradient components. For shallow networks, OSTL is gradient-equivalent to BPTT enabling for the first time online training of SNNs with BPTT-equivalent gradients. In addition, the proposed formulation unveils a class of SNN architectures trainable online at low time complexity. Moreover, we extend OSTL to a generic form, applicable to a wide range of network architectures, including networks comprising long short-term memory (LSTM) and gated recurrent units (GRU). We demonstrate the operation of our algorithm on various tasks from language modelling to speech recognition and obtain results on par with the BPTT baselines.