Neural networks - a layman's guide

Neural computing is at the cutting-edge of modelling technology.
David Oldfield, of data management specialist Docutag, provides a lucid and not-too-technical introduction to what neural nets are, and what they can do

David Oldfield

THE ELECTRONICS company Sharp recently introduced a microwave oven that 'knows' how long to cook the food for. This product uses a neural network because it would have been too difficult to do using conventional computing methods. A surprising number of other products also use neural networks - from modems to car engine management systems. So even if you have never heard of a neural network you may be using one.

Neural network systems are not limited to engineering applications. Their versatility suits them to a wide range of commercial applications. Any organisation that regularly analyses large amounts of data needs to know of their existence. However, all new technologies seem to surround themselves with hype and false promises. The aim of this article is to give a simple, balanced overview of this technology.