I start to suspect this problem is very hard now that I cannot find a single relevant literature on the subject, but it's too late to change the class project topics now, so I hope any pointers to a solution. Please pardon the somewhat artificial scenerio of this question, but here goes:

Technical version:

Let $\Sigma_{c}$ and $\Sigma_{q}$ and $\Sigma_{a}$ be 3 disjoint finite alphabet (c, q, a stand for content, query and answer respectively). Let $L_{c}\in\Sigma_{c}^{*}$ and $L_{q}\in\Sigma_{q}^{*}$ be FINITE languages, wherein $L_{q}$ have the property that for every string in the language all of its prefix are in the language too. There is an unknown function $f:L_{c}\times L_{q}\rightarrow\Sigma_{a}^{*}$. Consider a mysterious machine that receive continuous stream of symbol through a channel one at a time step (we assume that the symbol are clearly distinguishable). This machine, whenever being feed with a string in $c\in L_{c}$ (with the symbol in correct temporal order) followed by a string in $q\in L_{q}$ will output (through a different output channel) the value of $f(c,q)$ as a temporal sequence, one symbol at a time. Note that the machine always output after every new symbol from $\Sigma_{q}$. Note that the empty string is in $L_{q}$, which means the machine also output something before any symbol on $\Sigma_{q}$ have arrived, but only if it is certain with high probability that the full string in $L_{c}$ have been received.

The objective is to construct a neural network that emulate that mysterious machine, if we have only access to its input and output channel to use as training data, and we do not know $f$. We also have to assume that the input channel are noisy in the following sense: random noise are inserted into the input channel at high probability, delaying input symbol, and we initially do not know which one is noise and which one is authentic; also symbol in the input channel are sometimes lost at low probability. EDIT: Note: we do not know $L_{c}$ nor $L_{q}$, only the mysterious machine know, in fact we do not even know the alphabet $\Sigma_{c}$ and $\Sigma_{q}$ other than the fact that they are disjoint and are subset of the set of all possible input symbol (input symbol not in either set are certainly noise, but we can't tell which set it belongs to initially; note that it is still possible for symbol from the alphabet to be noise).

(why neural network: beside the noise problem, also because that's what I wrote in my class project proposal)

(layman version: consider Sherlock Holmes sitting in his chair, bored. Dr. Watson give a short description of the client. Once he's done, Sherlock Holmes give a conclusion about the client. Dr. Watson is astonished, and ask more question, and Sherlock Holmes reply. The conclusion must obviously based on the description alone; and subsequent answer have to answer the question being asked, taking into account the contexts which consists of question already being asked (for example, the same "How did you know?" following "Age?" demands different answer than when following "Height?"). Now you want to make a neural network that simulate Sherlock Holmes, having all the recordings of those session. Dr. Watson however tend to insert in long description that are rather irrelevant, making long statement before finally getting around to ask question, and sometimes accidentally omit crucial information, but otherwise describe people in a rather fixed order of details. The neural network must be able to deal with that. Of course, this is a just a layman's description, the situation is much less complex.)

I have looked through various relevant literature, and I cannot find anything relevant. Conversion to spatial domain is useless due to high amount of noise causing very long input sequence. I have looked into LSTM to deal with the memory problem over arbitrary long time lag, but I for the life of me cannot figure out how is the network is supposed to be trained when there are arbitrarily long noise insertion everywhere or possibilities of missing symbol (every method I found seems to force a fixed time-lag between input and output, and missing symbol immediately wreck any method based on predicting the next item in the sequence). Also, is it too much to ask for network that isn't too hard to code? Integrate-and-fire neuron is even worse than LSTM in term of difficulty in coding.

Thanks for your help. It's due in 2 days, so please be fast.

  • $\begingroup$ Maybe you should give your age and class level on your personal page, so that people might have a chance to know what kind of work may be expected from your project. $\endgroup$
    – babou
    Mar 16, 2014 at 7:24
  • $\begingroup$ Ah sorry but I am nothing more than a mere undergraduate taking an AI class, nothing big. $\endgroup$
    – Desperado
    Mar 16, 2014 at 8:52
  • $\begingroup$ Nothing to be sorry about. Often, it just helps answering. I found your question rather articulate, compared to many others ... but I fear you are aiming too far ... and with very little time. $\endgroup$
    – babou
    Mar 16, 2014 at 9:06
  • $\begingroup$ Some thoughts on noise and empty queries: since $L_c$ is finite, it is in principle possible to check a) whether or not some arriving Symbol complements the current input to a String in the Language and b) what the permissible continuations of a current Input String in $L_c$ Are, including the cardinality of the set. Based ob b) you can decide whether 'Content' Input is complete with sufficient confidence (maybe including the threshold in the set of trained parameters), a) detects noise in the best but possible way and will aid you in determining the end of noise. More sophisticated schemes... $\endgroup$
    – collapsar
    Mar 16, 2014 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ ...will require more information (e.g. The noise Statistics, characteristics of $f$, statistics on $L_c$). In General, noise will not harm the training result when offset by additional Training Data unless noise produces false positives. Again, as $L_c$ and $\Sigma_c$ are finite and 'usually' a content string will be delimited, critical items from the training set can principally be detected and might be handled in a special way (eg. In a first approximation by dropping them). $\endgroup$
    – collapsar
    Mar 16, 2014 at 10:29

1 Answer 1


I unfortunately know very little of neural network. The closest thing that your project reminds me of is speech recognition, and I would look at that literature. I am thinking of the first stage of speech recognition, when the sound stream is transformed into a word lattice (or a word stream, if you keep only the most likely path in the lattice). But all I know on this is based on Hidden Markov Models and Viterbi algorithm [1]. I have not looked at the field for a long time, and I have no idea how it would translate in neural network, but I would suggest you look at that literature, for example by searching the web for neural networks and speech recognition.

I doubt you can code anything serious in 2 days. I would not even try, but I do not know what kind of programming is expected. But maybe a good description of what should be done, with appropriate references would be enough.

You should simplify your question, if you find out that your requirements are too strong, particularly on noise. At first, you should limit yourself to very simple kinds of noise. Problems are seldom solved the first time in full complexity. You first solve simple cases, then try to see where you could do more. For one thing, do you know how to do it without any noise? What are the limitations? Then you can start adding simple noise, and see what changes.

Your input, content and query, do not seem to have much reason to be distinguished, or do you have a strong reason to distinguish them? I would think that at some point your system must enter a state when it starts answering on the output tape.

[1] Bahl, L. R.,Jelinek, F., & Mercer,R.L. (1983).A maximum likelihood approach tocontinuous speech recognition. IEEETrans. Pattern Anal. Machine Intell., PAMI 5, 179-190.

These authors actually published several papers on the subject for noisy input, including insertion, deletion and substitution of symbols. There are surely others, and this work is quite old. I am not sure the paper referenced is actually about learning. But the same people worked on learning too, such as parameters identification for Hidden Markov Models.

  • $\begingroup$ I already looked at that particular paper, and a few other having to do with speech recognition, but nothing there seems to convince me that it works also on long range noise (ie. lots of noise inserted). Oh and about reason to distinguish query, it is because the network is not supposed to answer until the query is given, and that could be very late. From my understanding, gradient-based training will enforced a fixed time lag between input and output, so would fail utterly if a query is too late. I just need something just work good enough to pass this class. Didn't realize it is this hard. $\endgroup$
    – Desperado
    Mar 16, 2014 at 8:59
  • $\begingroup$ If neural network is your choice, rather than a constraint from your instructor, you can justify switching to another approach just by explaining why, after studying the literature, you came to the conclusion that the other approach would be better suited. BTW, if you are late, but can show you have been working, it is sometimes possible to negotiate time ... depending on instructor and local policy. $\endgroup$
    – babou
    Mar 16, 2014 at 14:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Regarding your problem, the normal way to proceed is to check what simpler problem is already solved (to whatever extent) in the published literature. For example: is there a way to do it if $L_c$ and/or $L_q$ are known, or their alphabet, and/or if you have no noise, or no noise on some parts of the input ... whatever simplifies things. Then starting from there, adding one single source of complexity is already a lot for an undergraduate project. Have you done that? Could it be that one way to deal with the time lag problem is to signal the boundary between content and query noiselessly. $\endgroup$
    – babou
    Mar 16, 2014 at 14:08

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