An artificial neural network (ANN), usually called neural network (NN), is a mathematical model or computational model that is inspired by the structure and/or functional aspects of biological neural networks. A neural network consists of an interconnected group of artificial neurons, and it processes information using a connectionist approach to computation. In most cases an ANN is an adaptive system that changes its structure based on external or internal information that flows through the network during the learning phase. Modern neural networks are non-linear statistical data modeling tools. They are usually used to model complex relationships between inputs and outputs or to find patterns in data.
The original inspiration for the term Artificial Neural Network came from examination of central nervous systems and their neurons, axons, dendrites, and synapses, which constitute the processing elements of biological neural networks investigated by neuroscience. In an artificial neural network, simple artificial nodes, variously called "neurons", "neurodes", "processing elements" (PEs) or "units", are connected together to form a network of nodes mimicking the biological neural networks — hence the term "artificial neural network".
Because neuroscience is still full of unanswered questions, and since there are many levels of abstraction and therefore many ways to take inspiration from the brain, there is no single formal definition of what an artificial neural network is. Generally, it involves a network of simple processing elements that exhibit complex global behavior determined by connections between processing elements and element parameters. While an artificial neural network does not have to be adaptive per se, its practical use comes with algorithms designed to alter the strength (weights) of the connections in the network to produce a desired signal flow.
These networks are also similar to the biological neural networks in the sense that functions are performed collectively and in parallel by the units, rather than there being a clear delineation of subtasks to which various units are assigned (see also connectionism). Currently, the term Artificial Neural Network (ANN) tends to refer mostly to neural network models employed in statistics, cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence. Neural network models designed with emulation of the central nervous system (CNS) in mind are a subject of theoretical neuroscience and computational neuroscience.
In modern software implementations of artificial neural networks, the approach inspired by biology has been largely abandoned for a more practical approach based on statistics and signal processing. In some of these systems, neural networks or parts of neural networks (such as artificial neurons) are used as components in larger systems that combine both adaptive and non-adaptive elements. While the more general approach of such adaptive systems is more suitable for real-world problem solving, it has far less to do with the traditional artificial intelligence connectionist models. What they do have in common, however, is the principle of non-linear, distributed, parallel and local processing and adaptation.
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