Backpropagation of error (backprop) is a powerful algorithm for training machine learning architectures through end-to-end differentiation. Recently it has been shown that backprop in multilayer perceptrons (MLPs) can be approximated using predictive coding, a biologically plausible process theory of cortical computation that relies solely on local and Hebbian updates. The power of backprop, however, lies not in its instantiation in MLPs but in the concept of automatic differentiation, which allows for the optimization of any differentiable program expressed as a computation graph. Here, we demonstrate that predictive coding converges asymptotically (and in practice, rapidly) to exact backprop gradients on arbitrary computation graphs using only local learning rules. We apply this result to develop a straightforward strategy to translate core machine learning architectures into their predictive coding equivalents. We construct predictive coding convolutional neural networks, recurrent neural networks, and the more complex long short-term memory, which include a nonlayer-like branching internal graph structure and multiplicative interactions. Our models perform equivalently to backprop on challenging machine learning benchmarks while using only local and (mostly) Hebbian plasticity. Our method raises the potential that standard machine learning algorithms could in principle be directly implemented in neural circuitry and may also contribute to the development of completely distributed neuromorphic architectures.

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