An Introduction to Neural Networks and Deep Learning: Structures, Types & Limitations

Since you’re reading this article, chances are, you have an understanding of basic machine learning – if not of the technicalities then at least of the theoretical aspects of machine learning. 

Deep Learning is the next logical step after machine learning. In traditional machine learning, the machines were made to learn based on supervision or reinforcement. Deep learning, however, aims to replicate the process of human learning, and allows the systems to learn on their own.

This is made possible using Neural Networks. Think about the neurons in your brain and how they work. Now imagine if they were converted into artificial networks – that is what Artificial Neural Networks are. 

Deep learning and neural networks are going to revolutionise the world we know, and there’s a lot to unpack when it comes to this technology.

In this introductory article, we’ll give you a brief understanding of deep learning along with how neural networks work, what their different types are, and what are some limitations of neural networks. 

Deep Learning – A Brief Overview

Deep learning can be thought of as a subfield of machine learning. However, unlike any traditional machine learning algorithm or system, deep learning systems use multiple layers to extract high-order features from the raw input that they are fed with. The greater the number of layers, the “deeper” will be the network, and the better will be the feature extraction and the overall learning. 

The term deep learning has been around since the 1950s, but the approaches back then were fairly unpopular. As more research happens in this area, deep learning continues to advance, and today we have sophisticated deep learning methods powered by neural networks. 

Some of the more popular applications of neural networks in deep learning involve face detection, object detection, image recognition, text-to-speech detection and transcription, and more. But we’re only scratching the surface – there’s a lot to discover yet!

So, before you dive deeper into understanding deep learning, we must first begin by understanding what is an Artificial Neural Network in AI. 

Join Artificial Intelligence courses online from the World’s top Universities – Masters, Executive Post Graduate Programs, and Advanced Certificate Program in ML & AI to fast-track your career.

Artificial Neural Network 

ANNs are inspired by how the actual human brain functions and they form the foundation of deep learning. These systems take in data, train themselves to find patterns in the data, and find outputs for a new set of similar data. 

That’s what powers deep learning – neural networks learn by themselves and become stronger in finding patterns automatically, without any human intervention. As a result, neural networks can act as a sorting and labelling system for data.

Let’s understand ANNs in depth by first understanding Perceptrons. 

Best Machine Learning Courses & AI Courses Online


ANNs consist of smaller units, like the neural networks in our brain consist of smaller units called neurons. The smaller units of ANNs are called perceptrons. Essentially, perceptron contains one or more input layers, a bias, an activation function, and a final output. 

The perceptron works by receiving inputs, multiplies them by weight, and passes them on through an activation function to produce an output. The addition of bias is important so that no issue occurs even if all inputs are zero. It works on the following formula: 

Y = ∑ (weight * input) + bias

So, the first thing that happens is calculations within the single perceptron. Here, the weighted sum is calculated and passed on to the activation function. Again, there can be different types of activation functions like trigonometric function, step function, activation function, etc. 

Structure of an Artificial Neural Network

To develop a neural network, the first step is grouping different layers of perceptrons together. That way, we get a multi-layer perceptron model. 

Out of these multiple layers, the first layer is the input layer. This layer directly takes in the inputs. Whereas the last layer is called the output layer and is responsible for creating the desired outputs. 

All the layers between input and output layers are known as hidden layers. These layers don’t directly communicate with the feature inputs or final output. Rather, hidden layer neurons from one layer are connected to the other layer using different channels. 

The output that is derived from the activation function is what decides whether a neuron gets activated or not. Once a neuron is activated, it can transmit data to the next layers using the communication channels. Thus, all data points are propagated throughout the network. 

Finally, in the output layer, the neuron with the highest value determines the final output by firing. The value that neurons receive after all the propagation is a probability. It means that the network estimates the output via the highest probability value based on the input it receives.

Once we get the final output, we can compare it to a known label and do the weight adjustments accordingly. This process is repeated till we reach the maximum allowed iterations or acceptable error rate. 

Now, let’s talk a bit about the different types of Neural Networks available. 

Popular AI and ML Blogs & Free Courses

Different Types of Neural Networks

Today, we’ll look at the two most popular types of Neural Networks that are used for deep learning, i.e CNNs and RNNs. 

CNNs – Convolutional Neural Networks

Instead of working with simple 2-D arrays, CNNs work with a 3-D arrangement of neurons. The first layer is called the convolutional layer. Each neuron in this convolutional layer is responsible for processing only a small part of input information. As a result of this, the network understands the entire picture in small parts and computes them multiple times to successfully complete the whole picture. 

Hence, CNNs are extremely valuable for image recognition, object detection, and other similar tasks. Other applications where CNNs have been successful include speech recognition, computer vision tasks, and machine translation. 

RNNs – Recurrent Neural Networks

RNNs came to the limelight around the 1980s and they use time-series data or sequential data to make predictions. Thus, they are handy for temporal or ordinal solutions like speech recognition, natural language processing, translation, and more. 

Like CNNs, RNNs also require training data to learn and then make predictions. However, what makes RNNs different from CNNs is that RNNs are able to memorise the output of one layer and feed it back to the neurons of other layers. As a result, this can be thought of as a feedback network that keeps re-processing information, rather than just feeding the information forward like ANNs. 

Limitations of Working with Neural Networks

Neural Network is an area of ongoing research and modifications. So, there are often some shortcomings that are being resolved and rectified to bring sophisticated modifications in the technology. Let’s look at some limitations of Neural Networks: 

Requires a lot of data

Neural Networks work on a huge amount of training data in order to function properly. If you don’t have large amounts of data, it will become difficult for the network to train itself. Further, neural networks have several parameters – like learning rates, number of neurons per layer, number of hidden layers, etc., which needs to be tuned properly to minimise the prediction error while maximising the prediction efficacy and speed. The goal is to allow neural networks to replicate human brain functions, for which it needs a lot of data.

Works mostly as a black box

Because it is often hard to find out how hidden layers work and are organised, neural networks are often seen as a black-box environment. So, if an error occurs, it becomes much challenging and time-consuming to find the cause of the error and fix it. Not to forget, it also becomes quite expensive too. This is one of the main reasons why banks and financial institutes are not yet using Neural Networks to make predictions. 

The development is often time-consuming

Since Neural Networks learn by themselves, the entire process is often time-consuming, apart from being costly, when compared to traditional machine learning methods. Neural Networks are additionally computationally and financially expensive because they need lots of training data and computation power for the learning to happen. 

In Conclusion

What’s more is that this world is evolving rapidly, with the passing of each week. If you’re passionate about finding out more about deep learning and how neural networks can be made to work, we recommend you check out our Advanced Certificate Programme in Machine Learning and Deep Learning offered in collaboration with IIIT-B. This 8-month long course offers you all you require to kickstart your career – from one-on-one mentoring to industry support to placement guidance. Get yourself enrolled today! 

1. Is deep learning possible without neural networks?

No, Artificial Neural Networks are important for accomplishing deep learning.

2. What are the types of ANNs?

There are various types of artificial neural networks. But the 2 most applied ones are Recurrent Neural Networks and Convolutional Neural Networks.

3. What is the most basic unit of an Artificial Neural Network?

A Perceptron is the most basic unit of ANNs.


Want to share this article?

Master The Technology of the Future

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Our Popular Machine Learning Course

Get Free Consultation

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Free career counselling from upGrad experts!
Book a session with an industry professional today!
No Thanks
Let's do it
Get Free career counselling from upGrad experts!
Book a Session with an industry professional today!
Let's do it
No Thanks