Motivated by the growing evidence for Bayesian computation in the brain, we show how a two-layer recurrent network of Poisson neurons can perform both approximate Bayesian inference and learning for any hidden Markov model. The lower-layer sensory neurons receive noisy measurements of hidden world states. The higher-layer neurons infer a posterior distribution over world states via Bayesian inference from inputs generated by sensory neurons. We demonstrate how such a neuronal network with synaptic plasticity can implement a form of Bayesian inference similar to Monte Carlo methods such as particle filtering. Each spike in a higher-layer neuron represents a sample of a particular hidden world state. The spiking activity across the neural population approximates the posterior distribution over hidden states. In this model, variability in spiking is regarded not as a nuisance but as an integral feature that provides the variability necessary for sampling during inference. We demonstrate how the network can learn the likelihood model, as well as the transition probabilities underlying the dynamics, using a Hebbian learning rule. We present results illustrating the ability of the network to perform inference and learning for arbitrary hidden Markov models.

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