Convolutional Neural Network example

This tutorial introduces image classification with convolutional neural networks. We will train a small convolutional neural network to classify images.

We will show you how to:

  1. Build a small convolutional network in neon.
  2. Train on the CIFAR-10 dataset.
  3. Feed the network a new image to classify into one of 10 categories.

The associated ipython notebook can be found here.

Setting up the model

To set up the model, we need the following ingredients:

  • The CIFAR10 dataset
  • Layer configurations and a model
  • A compute backend
  • An optimizer to train the model.
  • callbacks to keep us updated about the progress of training.

We start by generating the backend:

from neon.backends import gen_backend
be = gen_backend(backend='mkl', batch_size=128)

There isn’t much we can do with the backend right now, but if we print it, you will see that we have a CPU backend object.

print be

Loading a dataset

The CIFAR-10 dataset consists of 60,000 images, each with size 32x32 pixels and 3 color channels. The images belong to 10 classes:


The dataset is provided in canned form, and will be downloaded from the web the first time you run this. It just returns numpy arrays with the pixel values, and class labels. The stock datasets are encapsulated in Dataset class objects which contain all the metadata required for accessing the data.

from import CIFAR10
cifar10_dataset = CIFAR10()

We put the dataset into a format neon can understand by creating an ArrayIterator instance. Doing so moves the data onto the compute device (e.g. GPU or CPU) and provides an iterator that returns training minibatches. The data iterators are generated by the DataSet class and the training and validation sets can be access through the attributes train_iter and valid_iter, respectively.

train_set = cifar10_dataset.train_iter
test_set = cifar10_dataset.valid_iter

Network layers

Neon supports many layer types, including Linear Convolution, Bias, Activation, and Pooling. For commonly used combinations, neon provides shortcuts:

  • Conv = Convolution + Bias + Activation
  • Affine = Linear + Bias + Activation

We are going to create a tiny network with two Conv, two Pooling, and two Affine layers.

We first assemble the layers in a list:

from neon.layers import Conv, Affine, Pooling
from neon.initializers import Uniform
from neon.transforms.activation import Rectlin, Softmax
init_uni = Uniform(low=-0.1, high=0.1)
layers = [Conv(fshape=(5,5,16), init=init_uni, activation=Rectlin()),
          Pooling(fshape=2, strides=2),
          Conv(fshape=(5,5,32), init=init_uni, activation=Rectlin()),
          Pooling(fshape=2, strides=2),
          Affine(nout=500, init=init_uni, activation=Rectlin()),
          Affine(nout=10, init=init_uni, activation=Softmax())]

Each convolution layer has a filter size set by the parameter fshape, which should be a tuple (width, height, # of filters). The final Affine layer has 10 hidden units, corresponding to the 10 categories in the dataset.

We now set up our model:

from neon.models import Model
model = Model(layers)

Cost function

Next we need a cost function to evaluate the output of the network. The cost function compares network outputs with ground truth labels, and produces and error that we can backpropagate through the layers of the network. Here we use the cross-entropy error.

from neon.layers import GeneralizedCost
from neon.transforms import CrossEntropyMulti
cost = GeneralizedCost(costfunc=CrossEntropyMulti())


We now have a cost function that we want to minimize, typically by following the negative gradient of the cost. This is called gradient descent. We do this iteratively over small batches of the data set, making it stochastic gradient descent (SGD).

from neon.optimizers import GradientDescentMomentum
optimizer = GradientDescentMomentum(learning_rate=0.005,


To provide feedback during model training, users can specify a set of callbacks that are evaluated at the end of every iteration (minibatch) or pass through the dataset (epoch). Callbacks include evaluating the model on a validation set or computing misclassification percentage. There are also callbacks for saving to disk and for generating visualizations. Here we will set up a progress bar to monitor training.

# Set up callbacks. By default sets up a progress bar
from neon.callbacks.callbacks import Callbacks
callbacks = Callbacks(model, train_set)

Training the model

Now all the pieces are in place to run the network. We use the fit function and pass it a dataset, cost, optimizer, and the callbacks we set up., cost=cost, optimizer=optimizer,  num_epochs=5, callbacks=callbacks)

Congrats! If you made it this far you have trained a convolutional network in neon.

Evaluating the model

We can now compute the misclassification on the test set to see how well we did.

from neon.transforms import Misclassification
error_pct = 100 * model.eval(test_set, metric=Misclassification())
print 'Misclassification error = %.1f%%' % error_pct

By tweaking some of the hyperparameters (number of layers, adding dropout…) we can improve the performance. This was quite a lot of code! Generally, to set up a new model from scratch it is best to follow one of the examples from the neon/examples directory. It’s easy to mix and match parts!


Now we want to grab a new image from the internet and classify it through our network.

# an image of a frog from wikipedia
img_source = ""

# download the image
import urllib
urllib.urlretrieve(img_source, filename="image.jpg")

# crop and resize to 32x32
from PIL import Image
import numpy as np

img ='image.jpg')
crop = img.crop((0,0,min(img.size),min(img.size)))
crop.thumbnail((32, 32))
crop = np.asarray(crop, dtype=np.float32)

We create an iterator with this image for inference. Because the model’s buffers are already initialized with a minibatch of size 128, we fill the rest with zeros.

from import ArrayIterator
import numpy as np

x_new = np.zeros((128,3072), dtype=np.float32)
x_new[0] = crop.reshape(1,3072)/ 255

inference_set = ArrayIterator(x_new, None, nclass=nclass, lshape=(3, 32, 32))

Get model outputs on the inference data:

classes =["airplane", "automobile", "bird", "cat", "deer",
          "dog", "frog", "horse", "ship", "truck"]
out = model.get_outputs(inference_set)
print classes[out[0].argmax()]