Deep Neural Nets: 33 years ago and 33 years from now

The Yann LeCun et al. (1989) paper Backpropagation Applied to Handwritten Zip Code Recognition is I believe of some historical significance because it is, to my knowledge, the earliest real-world application of a neural net trained end-to-end with backpropagation. Except for the tiny dataset (7291 16×16 grayscale images of digits) and the tiny neural network used (only 1,000 neurons), this paper reads remarkably modern today, 33 years later – it lays out a dataset, describes the neural net architecture, loss function, optimization, and reports the experimental classification error rates over training and test sets. It’s all very recognizable and type checks as a modern deep learning paper, except it is from 33 years ago. So I set out to reproduce the paper 1) for fun, but 2) to use the exercise as a case study on the nature of progress in deep learning. Read More