Spiking Neural Networks

Spiking Neural Networks


Spiking Neural Networks (SNNs) are the third generation of neural networks that aim to emulate the precise timing of the all-or-none action potential, or “spike”, in biological neurons. Unlike traditional artificial neural networks, SNNs incorporate the concept of time into their operating model. The network signals, or “spikes”, travel through the network and cause other neurons to emit spikes in a phenomenon known as “neural firing”. This temporal aspect of SNNs makes them a powerful tool for processing time-series data.


In a Spiking Neural Network, each neuron can be in one of two states: quiescent or firing. The state of the neuron changes based on the incoming spikes and the neuron’s own threshold for firing. When the cumulative input to a neuron exceeds its threshold, it fires, sending a spike to other neurons in the network. This process is often described as “integrate and fire”, as the neuron integrates the incoming signals over time and fires when the threshold is reached.

The key difference between SNNs and other types of neural networks is the incorporation of time. In traditional neural networks, the output of a neuron is a continuous value, whereas in SNNs, the output is a series of discrete spikes over time. This allows SNNs to process temporal information, making them particularly useful for tasks such as speech recognition, video processing, and other time-series applications.


Spiking Neural Networks have a wide range of applications, particularly in areas where temporal information is crucial. Some of the key applications include:

  • Speech Recognition: SNNs can process the temporal information in speech signals, making them effective for speech recognition tasks.
  • Video Processing: The ability of SNNs to handle time-series data makes them suitable for video processing, where temporal information is key.
  • Robotics: SNNs are used in robotics for tasks such as sensorimotor control, where the timing of actions is crucial.
  • Neuromorphic Engineering: SNNs are a key component in neuromorphic engineering, a field that aims to develop hardware that mimics the neural structure of the brain.

Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Temporal Processing: SNNs can process time-series data, making them suitable for tasks such as speech recognition and video processing.
  • Energy Efficiency: SNNs are more energy-efficient than traditional neural networks, as they only process spikes, which are sparse in time.
  • Biological Plausibility: SNNs more closely mimic the behavior of biological neurons, making them a useful tool in neuroscience and neuromorphic engineering.


  • Complexity: SNNs are more complex than traditional neural networks, making them harder to design and train.
  • Lack of Standard Training Algorithms: While backpropagation can be used to train SNNs, it is not as straightforward as with other types of neural networks.

Further Reading