So, What Actually Is a Feedback Loop?

With feedback loops, a system is constantly in dialogue with itself.

Improving a product or a process


It’s a phrase you may have heard in the workplace: “keep me in the feedback loop”, or “let’s add X or Y to the feedback loop”. In that context, a feedback loop is a system designed to improve a product, a service, a process, you name it, by building on past experiences. Negative feedback on these experiences will push you to change the way you do things, while positive feedback will mean you should be doing more of the same. In short, feedback loops allow to identify areas for improvement, act on them, and assess the effect of these improvements with the next loop.

Deep learning also uses feedback loops


But that approach isn’t relevant only as a management and monitoring tool in the workplace. As we explained in our article about artificial neural networks (ANN), feedback loops are also used so that these networks can learn from their mistakes. When output doesn’t match what the developer was expecting (e.g. the ANN identified a mouse instead of a cat), a technique called backpropagation allows the ANN to know about it, and to adjust its layers of neurons accordingly, so that the mistake doesn’t happen again. The information doesn’t travel exclusively forward. Another definition, that is both broader and more accurate, would then be: a feedback loop is a system in which the output (or a portion of it) is used as input. That is exactly how deep learning works.

The system is talking to itself


Whether the feedback loop is part of a deep learning system you’re building or is implemented in your everyday workflow with your colleagues, there are several steps that apply to all loops. As explains a blog over at Kabanize, first, you collect and store the input; then, you analyse it; then, this analysis serves as grounds for decision-making; then, the decisions are implemented. All along the way, the output of one stage becomes an input for the next one. The system is essentially in a constant dialogue with itself. After all, isn’t good communication the key to improvement?

 

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