Radial Basis Function Network
A Radial Basis Function Network (RBFN) is a particular type of neural network. In this article, I’ll be describing it’s use as a non-linear classifier.
Generally, when people talk about neural networks or “Artificial Neural Networks” they are referring to the Multilayer Perceptron (MLP). Each neuron in an MLP takes the weighted some of its input values. That is, each input value is multiplied by a coefficient, and the results are all summed together. A single MLP neuron is a simple linear classifier, but complex non-linear classifiers can be built by combining these neurons into a network.
To me, the RBFN approach is more intuitive than the MLP. An RBFN performs classification by measuring the input’s similarity to examples from the training set. Each RBFN neuron stores a “prototype”, which is just one of the examples from the training set. When we want to classify a new input, each neuron computes the Euclidean distance between the input and its prototype. Roughly speaking, if the input more closely resembles the class A prototypes than the class B prototypes, it is classified as class A.
RBF Network Architecture
The above illustration shows the typical architecture of an RBF Network. It consists of an input vector, a layer of RBF neurons, and an output layer with one node per category or class of data.
The Input Vector
The input vector is the n-dimensional vector that you are trying to classify. The entire input vector is shown to each of the RBF neurons.
The RBF Neurons
Each RBF neuron stores a “prototype” vector which is just one of the vectors from the training set. Each RBF neuron compares the input vector to its prototype, and outputs a value between 0 and 1 which is a measure of similarity. If the input is equal to the prototype, then the output of that RBF neuron will be 1. As the distance between the input and prototype grows, the response falls off exponentially towards 0. The shape of the RBF neuron’s response is a bell curve, as illustrated in the network architecture diagram.
The neuron’s response value is also called its “activation” value.
The prototype vector is also often called the neuron’s “center”, since it’s the value at the center of the bell curve.
The Output Nodes
The output of the network consists of a set of nodes, one per category that we are trying to classify. Each output node computes a sort of score for the associated category. Typically, a classification decision is made by assigning the input to the category with the highest score.
The score is computed by taking a weighted sum of the activation values from every RBF neuron. By weighted sum we mean that an output node associates a weight value with each of the RBF neurons, and multiplies the neuron’s activation by this weight before adding it to the total response.
Because each output node is computing the score for a different category, every output node has its own set of weights. The output node will typically give a positive weight to the RBF neurons that belong to its category, and a negative weight to the others.