The error backpropagation learning algorithm (BP) is generally considered biologically implausible because it does not use locally available, activation-based variables. A version of BP that can be computed locally using bidirectional activation recirculation (Hinton and McClelland 1988) instead of backpropagated error derivatives is more biologically plausible. This paper presents a generalized version of the recirculation algorithm (GeneRec), which overcomes several limitations of the earlier algorithm by using a generic recurrent network with sigmoidal units that can learn arbitrary input/output mappings. However, the contrastive Hebbian learning algorithm (CHL, also known as DBM or mean field learning) also uses local variables to perform error-driven learning in a sigmoidal recurrent network. CHL was derived in a stochastic framework (the Boltzmann machine), but has been extended to the deterministic case in various ways, all of which rely on problematic approximations and assumptions, leading some to conclude that it is fundamentally flawed. This paper shows that CHL can be derived instead from within the BP framework via the GeneRec algorithm. CHL is a symmetry-preserving version of GeneRec that uses a simple approximation to the midpoint or second-order accurate Runge-Kutta method of numerical integration, which explains the generally faster learning speed of CHL compared to BI. Thus, all known fully general error-driven learning algorithms that use local activation-based variables in deterministic networks can be considered variations of the GeneRec algorithm (and indirectly, of the backpropagation algorithm). GeneRec therefore provides a promising framework for thinking about how the brain might perform error-driven learning. To further this goal, an explicit biological mechanism is proposed that would be capable of implementing GeneRec-style learning. This mechanism is consistent with available evidence regarding synaptic modification in neurons in the neocortex and hippocampus, and makes further predictions.

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