Learning Tensor Flow. A Guide To Building Deep Systems, Tom Hope, Yehezkel S. Resheff,

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Tom Hope, Yehezkel S. Reshe, and Itay Lieder
Learning TensorFlow
A Guide to Building Deep Learning Systems
Boston Farnham Sebastopol Tokyo
Beijing Boston Farnham Sebastopol Tokyo
Learning TensorFlow
August 2017: First Edition
Revision History for the First Edition
2017-08-04: First Release
2017-09-15: Second Release
by Tom Hope, Yehezkel S. Resheff, and Itay Lieder
Copyright © 2017 Tom Hope, Itay Lieder, and Yehezkel S. Resheff. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Preface. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vii
1. Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Going Deep 1
Using TensorFlow for AI Systems 2
TensorFlow: What’s in a Name? 5
A High-Level Overview 6
Summary 8
2. Go with the Flow: Up and Running with TensorFlow. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Installing TensorFlow 9
Hello World 11
Softmax Regression 14
Summary 21
3. Understanding TensorFlow Basics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Computation Graphs 23
What Is a Computation Graph? 23
The Benefits of Graph Computations 24
Graphs, Sessions, and Fetches 24
Creating a Graph 25
Creating a Session and Running It 26
Constructing and Managing Our Graph 27
Fetches 29
Flowing Tensors 30
Nodes Are Operations, Edges Are Tensor Objects 30
Data Types 32
Tensor Arrays and Shapes 33
Names 37
Variables, Placeholders, and Simple Optimization 38
Variables 38
Placeholders 39
Optimization 40
Summary 49
4. Convolutional Neural Networks. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
Introduction to CNNs 51
MNIST: Take II 53
Convolution 54
Pooling 56
Dropout 57
The Model 57
CIFAR10 61
Loading the CIFAR10 Dataset 62
Simple CIFAR10 Models 64
Summary 68
5. Text I: Working with Text and Sequences, and TensorBoard Visualization. . . . . . . . . . . 69
The Importance of Sequence Data 69
Introduction to Recurrent Neural Networks 70
Vanilla RNN Implementation 72
TensorFlow Built-in RNN Functions 82
RNN for Text Sequences 84
Text Sequences 84
Supervised Word Embeddings 88
LSTM and Using Sequence Length 89
Training Embeddings and the LSTM Classifier 91
Summary 93
6. Text II: Word Vectors, Advanced RNN, and Embedding Visualization. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95
Introduction to Word Embeddings 95
Word2vec 97
Skip-Grams 98
Embeddings in TensorFlow 100
The Noise-Contrastive Estimation (NCE) Loss Function 101
Learning Rate Decay 101
Training and Visualizing with TensorBoard 102
Checking Out Our Embeddings 103
Pretrained Embeddings, Advanced RNN 105
Pretrained Word Embeddings 106
Bidirectional RNN and GRU Cells 110
Summary 112
7. TensorFlow Abstractions and Simplications. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
Chapter Overview 113
High-Level Survey 115
contrib.learn 117
Linear Regression 118
DNN Classifier 120
FeatureColumn 123
Homemade CNN with contrib.learn 128
TFLearn 131
Installation 131
CNN 131
RNN 134
Keras 136
Pretrained models with TF-Slim 143
Summary 151
8. Queues, Threads, and Reading Data. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153
The Input Pipeline 153
TFRecords 154
Writing with TFRecordWriter 155
Queues 157
Enqueuing and Dequeuing 157
Multithreading 159
Coordinator and QueueRunner 160
A Full Multithreaded Input Pipeline 162
tf.train.string_input_producer() and tf.TFRecordReader() 164
tf.train.shuffle_batch() 164
tf.train.start_queue_runners() and Wrapping Up 165
Summary 166
9. Distributed TensorFlow. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167
Distributed Computing 167
Where Does the Parallelization Take Place? 168
What Is the Goal of Parallelization? 168
TensorFlow Elements 169
tf.app.flags 169
Clusters and Servers 170
Replicating a Computational Graph Across Devices 171
Managed Sessions 171
Device Placement 172
Distributed Example 173
Summary 179
10. Exporting and Serving Models with TensorFlow. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181
Saving and Exporting Our Model 181
Assigning Loaded Weights 182
The Saver Class 185
Introduction to TensorFlow Serving 191
Overview 192
Installation 193
Building and Exporting 194
Summary 201
A. Tips on Model Construction and Using TensorFlow Serving. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 203
Index. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221
Deep learning has emerged in the last few years as a premier technology for building
intelligent systems that learn from data. Deep neural networks, originally roughly
inspired by how the human brain learns, are trained with large amounts of data to
solve complex tasks with unprecedented accuracy. With open source frameworks
making this technology widely available, it is becoming a must-know for anybody
involved with big data and machine learning.
TensorFlow is currently the leading open source software for deep learning, used by a
rapidly growing number of practitioners working on computer vision, natural lan‐
guage processing (NLP), speech recognition, and general predictive analytics.
This book is an end-to-end guide to TensorFlow designed for data scientists, engi‐
neers, students, and researchers. The book adopts a hands-on approach suitable for a
broad technical audience, allowing beginners a gentle start while diving deep into
advanced topics and showing how to build production-ready systems.
In this book you will learn how to:
1. Get up and running with TensorFlow, rapidly and painlessly.
2. Use TensorFlow to build models from the ground up.
3. Train and understand popular deep learning models for computer vision and
4. Use extensive abstraction libraries to make development easier and faster.
5. Scale up TensorFlow with queuing and multithreading, training on clusters, and
serving output in production.
6. And much more!
This book is written by data scientists with extensive R&D experience in both indus‐
try and academic research. The authors take a hands-on approach, combining practi‐
cal and intuitive examples, illustrations, and insights suitable for practitioners seeking
to build production-ready systems, as well as readers looking to learn to understand
and build flexible and powerful models.
This book assumes some basic Python programming know-how, including basic
familiarity with the scientific library NumPy.
Machine learning concepts are touched upon and intuitively explained throughout
the book. For readers who want to gain a deeper understanding, a reasonable level of
knowledge in machine learning, linear algebra, calculus, probability, and statistics is
Conventions Used in This Book
The following typographical conventions are used in this book:
Indicates new terms, URLs, email addresses, filenames, and file extensions.
Constant width
Used for program listings, as well as within paragraphs to refer to program ele‐
ments such as variable or function names, databases, data types, environment
variables, statements, and keywords.
Constant width bold
Shows commands or other text that should be typed literally by the user.
Constant width italic
Shows text that should be replaced with user-supplied values or by values deter‐
mined by context.
Using Code Examples
Supplemental material (code examples, exercises, etc.) is available for download at
This book is here to help you get your job done. In general, if example code is offered
with this book, you may use it in your programs and documentation. You do not
need to contact us for permission unless youre reproducing a significant portion of
the code. For example, writing a program that uses several chunks of code from this
book does not require permission. Selling or distributing a CD-ROM of examples
from O’Reilly books does require permission. Answering a question by citing this
book and quoting example code does not require permission. Incorporating a signifi‐
cant amount of example code from this book into your product’s documentation does
require permission.
This chapter provides a high-level overview of TensorFlow and its primary use:
implementing and deploying deep learning systems. We begin with a very brief intro‐
ductory look at deep learning. We then present TensorFlow, showcasing some of its
exciting uses for building machine intelligence, and then lay out its key features and
Going Deep
From large corporations to budding startups, engineers and data scientists are col‐
lecting huge amounts of data and using machine learning algorithms to answer com‐
plex questions and build intelligent systems. Wherever one looks in this landscape,
the class of algorithms associated with deep learning have recently seen great success,
often leaving traditional methods in the dust. Deep learning is used today to under‐
stand the content of images, natural language, and speech, in systems ranging from
mobile apps to autonomous vehicles. Developments in this field are taking place at
breakneck speed, with deep learning being extended to other domains and types of
data, like complex chemical and genetic structures for drug discovery and high-
dimensional medical records in public healthcare.
Deep learning methods—which also go by the name of deep neural networks—were
originally roughly inspired by the human brains vast network of interconnected neu‐
rons. In deep learning, we feed millions of data instances into a network of neurons,
teaching them to recognize patterns from raw inputs. The deep neural networks take
raw inputs (such as pixel values in an image) and transform them into useful repre‐
sentations, extracting higher-level features (such as shapes and edges in images) that
capture complex concepts by combining smaller and smaller pieces of information to
solve challenging tasks such as image classification (Figure 1-1). The networks auto‐
matically learn to build abstract representations by adapting and correcting them‐
selves, fitting patterns observed in the data. The ability to automatically construct
data representations is a key advantage of deep neural nets over conventional
machine learning, which typically requires domain expertise and manual feature
engineering before any “learning” can occur.
Figure 1-1. An illustration of image classication with deep neural networks. e net‐
work takes raw inputs (pixel values in an image) and learns to transform them into use‐
ful representations, in order to obtain an accurate image classication.
This book is about Googles framework for deep learning, TensorFlow. Deep learning
algorithms have been used for several years across many products and areas at Goo‐
gle, such as search, translation, advertising, computer vision, and speech recognition.
TensorFlow is, in fact, a second-generation system for implementing and deploying
deep neural networks at Google, succeeding the DistBelief project that started in
TensorFlow was released to the public as an open source framework with an Apache
2.0 license in November 2015 and has already taken the industry by storm, with
adoption going far beyond internal Google projects. Its scalability and flexibility,
combined with the formidable force of Google engineers who continue to maintain
and develop it, have made TensorFlow the leading system for doing deep learning.
Using TensorFlow for AI Systems
Before going into more depth about what TensorFlow is and its key features, we will
briefly give some exciting examples of how TensorFlow is used in some cutting-edge
real-world applications, at Google and beyond.
2 | Chapter 1: Introduction
Pre-trained models: state-of-the-art computer vision for all
One primary area where deep learning is truly shining is computer vision. A funda‐
mental task in computer vision is image classification—building algorithms and sys‐
tems that receive images as input, and return a set of categories that best describe
them. Researchers, data scientists, and engineers have designed advanced deep neural
networks that obtain highly accurate results in understanding visual content. These
deep networks are typically trained on large amounts of image data, taking much
time, resources, and effort. However, in a growing trend, researchers are publicly
releasing pre-trained models—deep neural nets that are already trained and that
users can download and apply to their data (Figure 1-2).
Figure 1-2. Advanced computer vision with pre-trained TensorFlow models.
TensorFlow comes with useful utilities allowing users to obtain and apply cutting-
edge pretrained models. We will see several practical examples and dive into the
details throughout this book.
Generating rich natural language descriptions for images
One exciting area of deep learning research for building machine intelligence systems
is focused on generating natural language descriptions for visual content (Figure 1-3).
A key task in this area is image captioning—teaching the model to output succinct
and accurate captions for images. Here too, advanced pre-trained TensorFlow models
that combine natural language understanding with computer vision are available.
Going Deep | 3
Figure 1-3. Going from images to text with image captioning (illustrative example).
Text summarization
Natural language understanding (NLU) is a key capability for building AI systems.
Tremendous amounts of text are generated every day: web content, social media,
news, emails, internal corporate correspondences, and many more. One of the most
sought-after abilities is to summarize text, taking long documents and generating
succinct and coherent sentences that extract the key information from the original
texts (Figure 1-4). As we will see later in this book, TensorFlow comes with powerful
features for training deep NLU networks, which can also be used for automatic text
4 | Chapter 1: Introduction
Figure 1-4. An illustration of smart text summarization.
TensorFlow: What’s in a Name?
Deep neural networks, as the term and the illustrations weve shown imply, are all
about networks of neurons, with each neuron learning to do its own operation as part
of a larger picture. Data such as images enters this network as input, and flows
through the network as it adapts itself at training time or predicts outputs in a
deployed system.
Tensors are the standard way of representing data in deep learning. Simply put, ten‐
sors are just multidimensional arrays, an extension of two-dimensional tables (matri‐
ces) to data with higher dimensionality. Just as a black-and-white (grayscale) images
are represented as “tables” of pixel values, RGB images are represented as tensors
(three-dimensional arrays), with each pixel having three values corresponding to red,
green, and blue components.
In TensorFlow, computation is approached as a dataow graph (Figure 1-5). Broadly
speaking, in this graph, nodes represent operations (such as addition or multiplica‐
tion), and edges represent data (tensors) flowing around the system. In the next chap‐
ters, we will dive deeper into these concepts and learn to understand them with many
TensorFlow: What’s in a Name? | 5
Figure 1-5. A dataow computation graph. Data in the form of tensors ows through a
graph of computational operations that make up our deep neural networks.
A High-Level Overview
TensorFlow, in the most general terms, is a software framework for numerical com‐
putations based on dataflow graphs. It is designed primarily, however, as an interface
for expressing and implementing machine learning algorithms, chief among them
deep neural networks.
TensorFlow was designed with portability in mind, enabling these computation
graphs to be executed across a wide variety of environments and hardware platforms.
With essentially identical code, the same TensorFlow neural net could, for instance,
be trained in the cloud, distributed over a cluster of many machines or on a single
laptop. It can be deployed for serving predictions on a dedicated server or on mobile
device platforms such as Android or iOS, or Raspberry Pi single-board computers.
TensorFlow is also compatible, of course, with Linux, macOS, and Windows operat‐
ing systems.
The core of TensorFlow is in C++, and it has two primary high-level frontend lan‐
guages and interfaces for expressing and executing the computation graphs. The most
developed frontend is in Python, used by most researchers and data scientists. The
C++ frontend provides quite a low-level API, useful for efficient execution in embed‐
ded systems and other scenarios.
Aside from its portability, another key aspect of TensorFlow is its flexibility, allowing
researchers and data scientists to express models with relative ease. It is sometimes
revealing to think of modern deep learning research and practice as playing with
“LEGO-like” bricks, replacing blocks of the network with others and seeing what hap‐
pens, and at times designing new blocks. As we shall see throughout this book, Ten‐
sorFlow provides helpful tools to use these modular blocks, combined with a flexible
API that enables the writing of new ones. In deep learning, networks are trained with
6 | Chapter 1: Introduction
a feedback process called backpropagation based on gradient descent optimization.
TensorFlow flexibly supports many optimization algorithms, all with automatic dif‐
ferentiation—the user does not need to specify any gradients in advance, since Ten‐
sorFlow derives them automatically based on the computation graph and loss
function provided by the user. To monitor, debug, and visualize the training process,
and to streamline experiments, TensorFlow comes with TensorBoard (Figure 1-6), a
simple visualization tool that runs in the browser, which we will use throughout this
Figure 1-6. TensorFlow’s visualization tool, TensorBoard, for monitoring, debugging, and
analyzing the training process and experiments.
Key enablers of TensorFlow’s flexibility for data scientists and researchers are high-
level abstraction libraries. In state-of-the-art deep neural nets for computer vision or
NLU, writing TensorFlow code can take a toll—it can become a complex, lengthy, and
cumbersome endeavor. Abstraction libraries such as Keras and TF-Slim offer simpli‐
fied high-level access to the “LEGO bricks” in the lower-level library, helping to
streamline the construction of the dataflow graphs, training them, and running infer‐
ence. Another key enabler for data scientists and engineers is the pretrained models
that come with TF-Slim and TensorFlow. These models were trained on massive
amounts of data with great computational resources, which are often hard to come by
and in any case require much effort to acquire and set up. Using Keras or TF-Slim, for
example, with just a few lines of code it is possible to use these advanced models for
inference on incoming data, and also to fine-tune the models to adapt to new data.
The flexibility and portability of TensorFlow help make the flow from research to
production smooth, cutting the time and effort it takes for data scientists to push
their models to deployment in products and for engineers to translate algorithmic
ideas into robust code.
A High-Level Overview | 7
TensorFlow abstractions
TensorFlow comes with abstraction libraries such as Keras and TF-
Slim, offering simplified high-level access to TensorFlow. These
abstractions, which we will see later in this book, help streamline
the construction of the dataflow graphs and enable us to train them
and run inference with many fewer lines of code.
But beyond flexibility and portability, TensorFlow has a suite of properties and tools
that make it attractive for engineers who build real-world AI systems. It has natural
support for distributed training—indeed, it is used at Google and other large industry
players to train massive networks on huge amounts of data, over clusters of many
machines. In local implementations, training on multiple hardware devices requires
few changes to code used for single devices. Code also remains relatively unchanged
when going from local to distributed, which makes using TensorFlow in the cloud, on
Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Google Cloud, particularly attractive. Additionally,
as we will see further along in this book, TensorFlow comes with many more features
aimed at boosting scalability. These include support for asynchronous computation
with threading and queues, efficient I/O and data formats, and much more.
Deep learning continues to rapidly evolve, and so does TensorFlow, with frequent
new and exciting additions, bringing better usability, performance, and value.
With the set of tools and features described in this chapter, it becomes clear why Ten‐
sorFlow has attracted so much attention in little more than a year. This book aims at
first rapidly getting you acquainted with the basics and ready to work, and then we
will dive deeper into the world of TensorFlow with exciting and practical examples.
8 | Chapter 1: Introduction
1We refer the reader to the official TensorFlow install guide for further details, and especially the ever-changing
details of GPU installations.
Go with the Flow: Up and Running
with TensorFlow
In this chapter we start our journey with two working TensorFlow examples. The first
(the traditional “hello world” program), while short and simple, includes many of the
important elements we discuss in depth in later chapters. With the second, a first end-
to-end machine learning model, you will embark on your journey toward state-of-
the-art machine learning with TensorFlow.
Before getting started, we briefly walk through the installation of TensorFlow. In
order to facilitate a quick and painless start, we install the CPU version only, and
defer the GPU installation to later.1 (If you dont know what this means, that’s OK for
the time being!) If you already have TensorFlow installed, skip to the second section.
Installing TensorFlow
If you are using a clean Python installation (probably set up for the purpose of learn‐
ing TensorFlow), you can get started with the simple pip installation:
$ pip install tensorflow
This approach does, however, have the drawback that TensorFlow will override exist‐
ing packages and install specific versions to satisfy dependencies. If you are using this
Python installation for other purposes as well, this will not do. One common way
around this is to install TensorFlow in a virtual environment, managed by a utility
called virtualenv.
Depending on your setup, you may or may not need to install virtualenv on your
machine. To install virtualenv, type:
$ pip install virtualenv
See http://virtualenv.pypa.io for further instructions.
In order to install TensorFlow in a virtual environment, you must first create the vir‐
tual environment—in this book we choose to place these in the ~/envs folder, but feel
free to put them anywhere you prefer:
$ cd ~
$ mkdir envs
$ virtualenv ~/envs/tensorflow
This will create a virtual environment named tensorow in ~/envs (which will mani‐
fest as the folder ~/envs/tensorow). To activate the environment, use:
$ source ~/envs/tensorflow/bin/activate
The prompt should now change to indicate the activated environment:
At this point the pip install command:
(tensorflow)$ pip install tensorflow
will install TensorFlow into the virtual environment, without impacting other pack‐
ages installed on your machine.
Finally, in order to exit the virtual environment, you type:
(tensorflow)$ deactivate
at which point you should get back the regular prompt:
TensorFlow for Windows Users
Up until recently TensorFlow had been notoriously difficult to use with Windows
machines. As of TensorFlow 0.12, however, Windows integration is here! It is as sim‐
ple as:
pip install tensorflow
for the CPU version, or:
pip install tensorflow-gpu
for the GPU-enabled version (assuming you already have CUDA 8).
10 | Chapter 2: Go with the Flow: Up and Running with TensorFlow
Adding an alias to ~/.bashrc
The process described for entering and exiting your virtual envi‐
ronment might be too cumbersome if you intend to use it often. In
this case, you can simply append the following command to your
~/.bashrc file:
alias tensorflow="source ~/envs/tensorflow/bin/activate"
and use the command tensorflow to activate the virtual environ‐
ment. To quit the environment, you will still use deactivate.
Now that we have a basic installation of TensorFlow, we can proceed to our first
working examples. We will follow the well-established tradition and start with a
“hello world” program.
Hello World
Our first example is a simple program that combines the words “Hello” and “ World!”
and displays the output—the phrase “Hello World!” While simple and straightfor‐
ward, this example introduces many of the core elements of TensorFlow and the ways
in which it is different from a regular Python program.
We suggest you run this example on your machine, play around with it a bit, and see
what works. Next, we will go over the lines of code and discuss each element sepa‐
First, we run a simple install and version check (if you used the virtualenv installation
option, make sure to activate it before running TensorFlow code):
import tensorflow as tf
If correct, the output will be the version of TensorFlow you have installed on your
system. Version mismatches are the most probable cause of issues down the line.
Example 2-1 shows the complete “hello world” example.
Example 2-1. “Hello world” with TensorFlow
import tensorflow as tf
h = tf.constant("Hello")
w = tf.constant(" World!")
hw = h + w
with tf.Session() as sess:
ans = sess.run(hw)
print (ans)
Hello World | 11
We assume you are familiar with Python and imports, in which case the first line:
import tensorflow as tf
requires no explanation.
IDE conguration
If you are running TensorFlow code from an IDE, then make sure
to redirect to the virtualenv where the package is installed. Other‐
wise, you will get the following import error:
ImportError: No module named tensorflow
In the PyCharm IDE this is done by selecting Run→Edit Configu‐
rations, then changing Python Interpreter to point to ~/envs/
tensorow/bin/python, assuming you used ~/envs/tensorow as the
virtualenv directory.
Next, we define the constants "Hello" and " World!", and combine them:
import tensorflow as tf
h = tf.constant("Hello")
w = tf.constant(" World!")
hw = h + w
At this point, you might wonder how (if at all) this is different from the simple
Python code for doing this:
ph = "Hello"
pw = " World!"
phw = h + w
The key point here is what the variable hw contains in each case. We can check this
using the print command. In the pure Python case we get this:
>print phw
Hello World!
In the TensorFlow case, however, the output is completely different:
>print hw
Tensor("add:0", shape=(), dtype=string)
Probably not what you expected!
In the next chapter we explain the computation graph model of TensorFlow in detail,
at which point this output will become completely clear. The key idea behind compu‐
tation graphs in TensorFlow is that we first define what computations should take
place, and then trigger the computation in an external mechanism. Thus, the Tensor‐
Flow line of code:
12 | Chapter 2: Go with the Flow: Up and Running with TensorFlow
hw = h + w
does not compute the sum of h and w, but rather adds the summation operation to a
graph of computations to be done later.
Next, the Session object acts as an interface to the external TensorFlow computation
mechanism, and allows us to run parts of the computation graph we have already
defined. The line:
ans = sess.run(hw)
actually computes hw (as the sum of h and w, the way it was defined previously), fol‐
lowing which the printing of ans displays the expected “Hello World!” message.
This completes the first TensorFlow example. Next, we dive right in with a simple
machine learning example, which already shows a great deal of the promise of the
TensorFlow framework.
The MNIST (Mixed National Institute of Standards and Technology) handwritten
digits dataset is one of the most researched datasets in image processing and machine
learning, and has played an important role in the development of artificial neural net‐
works (now generally referred to as deep learning).
As such, it is fitting that our first machine learning example should be dedicated to
the classification of handwritten digits (Figure 2-1 shows a random sample from the
dataset). At this point, in the interest of keeping it simple, we will apply a very simple
classifier. This simple model will suffice to classify approximately 92% of the test set
correctly—the best models currently available reach over 99.75% correct classifica‐
tion, but we have a few more chapters to go until we get there! Later in the book, we
will revisit this data and use more sophisticated methods.
MNIST | 13
Figure 2-1. 100 random MNIST images
Softmax Regression
In this example we will use a simple classifier called somax regression. We will not go
into the mathematical formulation of the model in too much detail (there are plenty
of good resources where you can find this information, and we strongly suggest that
you do so, if you have never seen this before). Rather, we will try to provide some
intuition into the way the model is able to solve the digit recognition problem.
Put simply, the softmax regression model will figure out, for each pixel in the image,
which digits tend to have high (or low) values in that location. For instance, the cen‐
ter of the image will tend to be white for zeros, but black for sixes. Thus, a black pixel
14 | Chapter 2: Go with the Flow: Up and Running with TensorFlow
2It is common to add a “bias term,” which is equivalent to stating which digits we believe an image to be before
seeing the pixel values. If you have seen this before, then try adding it to the model and check how it affects
the results.
3If you are familiar with softmax regression, you probably realize this is a simplification of the way it works,
especially when pixel values are as correlated as with digit images.
in the center of an image will be evidence against the image containing a zero, and in
favor of it containing a six.
Learning in this model consists of finding weights that tell us how to accumulate evi‐
dence for the existence of each of the digits. With softmax regression, we will not use
the spatial information in the pixel layout in the image. Later on, when we discuss
convolutional neural networks, we will see that utilizing spatial information is one of
the key elements in making great image-processing and object-recognition models.
Since we are not going to use the spatial information at this point, we will unroll our
image pixels as a single long vector denoted x (Figure 2-2). Then
xw0 = ∑xiwi
will be the evidence for the image containing the digit 0 (and in the same way we will
have wd weight vectors for each one of the other digits, d= 1, . . ., 9).
Figure 2-2. MNIST image pixels unrolled to vectors and stacked as columns (sorted by
digit from le to right). While the loss of spatial information doesn’t allow us to recog‐
nize the digits, the block structure evident in this gure is what allows the somax model
to classify images. Essentially, all zeros (lemost block) share a similar pixel structure, as
do all ones (second block from the le), etc.
All this means is that we sum up the pixel values, each multiplied by a weight, which
we think of as the importance of this pixel in the overall evidence for the digit zero
being in the image.2
For instance, w038 will be a large positive number if the 38th pixel having a high inten‐
sity points strongly to the digit being a zero, a strong negative number if high-
intensity values in this position occur mostly in other digits, and zero if the intensity
value of the 38th pixel tells us nothing about whether or not this digit is a zero.3
Performing this calculation at once for all digits (computing the evidence for each of
the digits appearing in the image) can be represented by a single matrix operation. If
Softmax Regression | 15
we place the weights for each of the digits in the columns of a matrix W, then the
length-10 vector with the evidence for each of the digits is
[xw0···xw9] = xW
The purpose of learning a classifier is almost always to evaluate new examples. In this
case, this means that we would like to be able to tell what digit is written in a new
image we have not seen in our training data. In order to do this, we start by summing
up the evidence for each of the 10 possible digits (i.e., computing xW). The final
assignment will be the digit that “wins” by accumulating the most evidence:
digit = argmax(xW)
We start by presenting the code for this example in its entirety (Example 2-2), then
walk through it line by line and go over the details. You may find that there are many
novel elements or that some pieces of the puzzle are missing at this stage, but our
advice is that you go with it for now. Everything will become clear in due course.
Example 2-2. Classifying MNIST handwritten digits with somax regression
import tensorflow as tf
from tensorflow.examples.tutorials.mnist import input_data
DATA_DIR = '/tmp/data'
NUM_STEPS = 1000
data = input_data.read_data_sets(DATA_DIR, one_hot=True)
x = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, [None, 784])
W = tf.Variable(tf.zeros([784, 10]))
y_true = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, [None, 10])
y_pred = tf.matmul(x, W)
cross_entropy = tf.reduce_mean(tf.nn.softmax_cross_entropy_with_logits(
logits=y_pred, labels=y_true))
gd_step = tf.train.GradientDescentOptimizer(0.5).minimize(cross_entropy)
correct_mask = tf.equal(tf.argmax(y_pred, 1), tf.argmax(y_true, 1))
accuracy = tf.reduce_mean(tf.cast(correct_mask, tf.float32))
with tf.Session() as sess:
# Train
16 | Chapter 2: Go with the Flow: Up and Running with TensorFlow
for _ in range(NUM_STEPS):
batch_xs, batch_ys = data.train.next_batch(MINIBATCH_SIZE)
sess.run(gd_step, feed_dict={x: batch_xs, y_true: batch_ys})
# Test
ans = sess.run(accuracy, feed_dict={x: data.test.images,
y_true: data.test.labels})
print "Accuracy: {:.4}%".format(ans*100)
If you run the code on your machine, you should get output like this:
Extracting /tmp/data/train-images-idx3-ubyte.gz
Extracting /tmp/data/train-labels-idx1-ubyte.gz
Extracting /tmp/data/t10k-images-idx3-ubyte.gz
Extracting /tmp/data/t10k-labels-idx1-ubyte.gz
Accuracy: 91.83%
Thats all it takes! If you have put similar models together before using other plat‐
forms, you might appreciate the simplicity and readability. However, these are just
side bonuses, with the efficiency and flexibility gained from the computation graph
model of TensorFlow being what we are really interested in.
The exact accuracy value you get will be just under 92%. If you run the program once
more, you will get another value. This sort of stochasticity is very common in
machine learning code, and you have probably seen similar results before. In this
case, the source is the changing order in which the handwritten digits are presented
to the model during learning. As a result, the learned parameters following training
are slightly different from run to run.
Running the same program five times might therefore produce this result:
Accuracy: 91.86%
Accuracy: 91.51%
Accuracy: 91.62%
Accuracy: 91.93%
Accuracy: 91.88%
We will now briefly go over the code for this example and see what is new from the
previous “hello world” example. Well break it down line by line:
import tensorflow as tf
from tensorflow.examples.tutorials.mnist import input_data
The first new element in this example is that we use external data! Rather than down‐
loading the MNIST dataset (freely available at http://yann.lecun.com/exdb/mnist/) and
loading it into our program, we use a built-in utility for retrieving the dataset on the
fly. Such utilities exist for most popular datasets, and when dealing with small ones
(in this case only a few MB), it makes a lot of sense to do it this way. The second
Softmax Regression | 17
4Here and throughout, before running the example code, make sure DATA_DIR fits the operating system you are
using. On Windows, for instance, you would probably use something like c:\tmp\data instead.
import loads the utility we will later use both to automatically download the data for
us, and to manage and partition it as needed:
DATA_DIR = '/tmp/data'
NUM_STEPS = 1000
Here we define some constants that we use in our program—these will each be
explained in the context in which they are first used:
data = input_data.read_data_sets(DATA_DIR, one_hot=True)
The read_data_sets() method of the MNIST reading utility downloads the dataset
and saves it locally, setting the stage for further use later in the program. The first
argument, DATA_DIR, is the location we wish the data to be saved to locally. We set this
to '/tmp/data', but any other location would be just as good. The second argument
tells the utility how we want the data to be labeled; we will not go into this right now.4
Note that this is what prints the first four lines of the output, indicating the data was
obtained correctly. Now we are finally ready to set up our model:
x = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, [None, 784])
W = tf.Variable(tf.zeros([784, 10]))
In the previous example we saw the TensorFlow constant element—this is now com‐
plemented by the placeholder and Variable elements. For now, it is enough to
know that a variable is an element manipulated by the computation, while a place‐
holder has to be supplied when triggering it. The image itself (x) is a placeholder,
because it will be supplied by us when running the computation graph. The size
[None, 784] means that each image is of size 784 (28×28 pixels unrolled into a single
vector), and None is an indicator that we are not currently specifying how many of
these images we will use at once:
y_true = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, [None, 10])
y_pred = tf.matmul(x, W)
In the next chapter these concepts will be dealt with in much more depth.
A key concept in a large class of machine learning tasks is that we would like to learn
a function from data examples (in our case, digit images) to their known labels (the
identity of the digit in the image). This setting is called supervised learning. In most
supervised learning models, we attempt to learn a model such that the true labels and
the predicted labels are close in some sense. Here, y_true and y_pred are the ele‐
ments representing the true and predicted labels, respectively:
18 | Chapter 2: Go with the Flow: Up and Running with TensorFlow
5As of TensorFlow 1.0 this is also contained in tf.losses.softmax_cross_entropy.
6As of TensorFlow 1.0 this is also contained in tf.metrics.accuracy.
cross_entropy = tf.reduce_mean(tf.nn.softmax_cross_entropy_with_logits(
logits=y_pred, labels=y_true))
The measure of similarity we choose for this model is what is known as cross entropy
—a natural choice when the model outputs class probabilities. This element is often
referred to as the loss function:5
gd_step = tf.train.GradientDescentOptimizer(0.5).minimize(cross_entropy)
The final piece of the model is how we are going to train it (i.e., how we are going to
minimize the loss function). A very common approach is to use gradient descent
optimization. Here, 0.5 is the learning rate, controlling how fast our gradient descent
optimizer shifts model weights to reduce overall loss.
We will discuss optimizers and how they fit into the computation graph later on in
the book.
Once we have defined our model, we want to define the evaluation procedure we will
use in order to test the accuracy of the model. In this case, we are interested in the
fraction of test examples that are correctly classified:6
correct_mask = tf.equal(tf.argmax(y_pred, 1), tf.argmax(y_true, 1))
accuracy = tf.reduce_mean(tf.cast(correct_mask, tf.float32))
As with the “hello world” example, in order to make use of the computation graph we
defined, we must create a session. The rest happens within the session:
with tf.Session() as sess:
First, we must initialize all variables:
This carries some specific implications in the realm of machine learning and optimi‐
zation, which we will discuss further when we use models for which initialization is
an important issue
Supervised Learning and the Train/Test Scheme
Supervised learning generally refers to the task of learning a function from data
objects to labels associated with them, based on a set of examples where the correct
labels are already known. This is usually subdivided into the case where labels are
continuous (regression) or discrete (classification).
The purpose of training supervised learning models is almost always to apply them
later to new examples with unknown labels, in order to obtain predicted labels for
Softmax Regression | 19
them. In the MNIST case discussed in this section, the purpose of training the model
would probably be to apply it on new handwritten digit images and automatically
find out what digits they represent.
As a result, we are interested in the extent to which our model will label new examples
correctly. This is reflected in the way we evaluate the accuracy of the model. We first
partition the labeled dataset into train and test partitions. During model training we
use only the train partition, and during evaluation we test the accuracy only on the
test partition. This scheme is generally known as a train/test validation.
for _ in range(NUM_STEPS):
batch_xs, batch_ys = data.train.next_batch(MINIBATCH_SIZE)
sess.run(gd_step, feed_dict={x: batch_xs, y_true: batch_ys})
The actual training of the model, in the gradient descent approach, consists of taking
many steps in “the right direction.” The number of steps we will make, NUM_STEPS,
was set to 1,000 in this case. There are more sophisticated ways of deciding when to
stop, but more about that later! In each step we ask our data manager for a bunch of
examples with their labels and present them to the learner. The MINIBATCH_SIZE con‐
stant controls the number of examples to use for each step.
Finally, we use the feed_dict argument of sess.run for the first time. Recall that we
defined placeholder elements when constructing the model. Now, each time we want
to run a computation that will include these elements, we must supply a value for
ans = sess.run(accuracy, feed_dict={x: data.test.images,
y_true: data.test.labels})
In order to evaluate the model we have just finished learning, we run the accuracy
computing operation defined earlier (recall the accuracy was defined as the fraction
of images that are correctly labeled). In this procedure, we feed a separate group of
test images, which were never seen by the model during training:
print "Accuracy: {:.4}%".format(ans*100)
Lastly, we print out the results as percent values.
Figure 2-3 shows a graph representation of our model.
20 | Chapter 2: Go with the Flow: Up and Running with TensorFlow
Figure 2-3. A graph representation of the model. Rectangular elements are Variables,
and circles are placeholders. e top-le frame represents the label prediction part, and
the bottom-right frame the evaluation.
Model evaluation and memory errors
When using TensorFlow, like any other system, it is important to
be aware of the resources being used, and make sure not to exceed
the capacity of the system. One possible pitfall is in the evaluation
of models—testing their performance on a test set. In this example
we evaluate the accuracy of the models by feeding all the test exam‐
ples in one go:
feed_dict={x: data.test.images, y_true: data.test.labels}
ans = sess.run(accuracy, feed_dict)
If all the test examples (here, data.test.images) are not able to fit
into the memory in the system you are using, you will get a mem‐
ory error at this point. This is likely to be the case, for instance, if
you are running this example on a typical low-end GPU.
The easy way around this (getting a machine with more memory is
a temporary fix, since there will always be larger datasets) is to split
the test procedure into batches, much as we did during training.
Congratulations! By now you have installed TensorFlow and taken it for a spin with
two basic examples. You have seen some of the fundamental building blocks that will
be used throughout the book, and have hopefully begun to get a feel for TensorFlow.
Next, we take a look under the hood and explore the computation graph model used
by TensorFlow.
Summary | 21
Understanding TensorFlow Basics
This chapter demonstrates the key concepts of how TensorFlow is built and how it
works with simple and intuitive examples. You will get acquainted with the basics of
TensorFlow as a numerical computation library using dataflow graphs. More specifi‐
cally, you will learn how to manage and create a graph, and be introduced to Tensor‐
Flow’s “building blocks,” such as constants, placeholders, and Variables.
Computation Graphs
TensorFlow allows us to implement machine learning algorithms by creating and
computing operations that interact with one another. These interactions form what
we call a “computation graph,” with which we can intuitively represent complicated
functional architectures.
What Is a Computation Graph?
We assume a lot of readers have already come across the mathematical concept of a
graph. For those to whom this concept is new, a graph refers to a set of interconnec‐
ted entities, commonly called nodes or vertices. These nodes are connected to each
other via edges. In a dataflow graph, the edges allow data to “flow” from one node to
another in a directed manner.
In TensorFlow, each of the graphs nodes represents an operation, possibly applied to
some input, and can generate an output that is passed on to other nodes. By analogy,
we can think of the graph computation as an assembly line where each machine
(node) either gets or creates its raw material (input), processes it, and then passes the
output to other machines in an orderly fashion, producing subcomponents and even‐
tually a final product when the assembly process comes to an end.
Operations in the graph include all kinds of functions, from simple arithmetic ones
such as subtraction and multiplication to more complex ones, as we will see later on.
They also include more general operations like the creation of summaries, generating
constant values, and more.
The Benets of Graph Computations
TensorFlow optimizes its computations based on the graphs connectivity. Each graph
has its own set of node dependencies. When the input of node y is affected by the
output of node x, we say that node y is dependent on node x. We call it a direct
dependency when the two are connected via an edge, and an indirect dependency
otherwise. For example, in Figure 3-1 (A), node e is directly dependent on
node c, indirectly dependent on node a, and independent of node d.
Figure 3-1. (A) Illustration of graph dependencies. (B) Computing node e results in the
minimal amount of computations according to the graphs dependencies—in this case
computing only nodes c, b, and a.
We can always identify the full set of dependencies for each node in the graph. This is
a fundamental characteristic of the graph-based computation format. Being able to
locate dependencies between units of our model allows us to both distribute compu‐
tations across available resources and avoid performing redundant computations of
irrelevant subsets, resulting in a faster and more efficient way of computing things.
Graphs, Sessions, and Fetches
Roughly speaking, working with TensorFlow involves two main phases: (1) con‐
structing a graph and (2) executing it. Lets jump into our first example and create
something very basic.
24 | Chapter 3: Understanding TensorFlow Basics
Creating a Graph
Right after we import TensorFlow (with import tensorflow as tf), a specific
empty default graph is formed. All the nodes we create are automatically associated
with that default graph.
Using the tf.<operator> methods, we will create six nodes assigned to arbitrarily
named variables. The contents of these variables should be regarded as the output of
the operations, and not the operations themselves. For now we refer to both the oper‐
ations and their outputs with the names of their corresponding variables.
The first three nodes are each told to output a constant value. The values 5, 2, and 3
are assigned to a, b, and c, respectively:
a = tf.constant(5)
b = tf.constant(2)
c = tf.constant(3)
Each of the next three nodes gets two existing variables as inputs, and performs sim‐
ple arithmetic operations on them:
d = tf.multiply(a,b)
e = tf.add(c,b)
f = tf.subtract(d,e)
Node d multiplies the outputs of nodes a and b. Node e adds the outputs of nodes
b and c. Node f subtracts the output of node e from that of node d.
And voilà! We have our first TensorFlow graph! Figure 3-2 shows an illustration of
the graph weve just created.
Figure 3-2. An illustration of our rst constructed graph. Each node, denoted by a lower‐
case letter, performs the operation indicated above it: Const for creating constants and
Add, Mul, and Sub for addition, multiplication, and subtraction, respectively. e inte‐
ger next to each edge is the output of the corresponding nodes operation.
Note that for some arithmetic and logical operations it is possible to use operation
shortcuts instead of having to apply tf.<operator>. For example, in this graph we
Graphs, Sessions, and Fetches | 25
could have used */+/- instead of tf.multiply()/tf.add()/tf.subtract() (like we
did in the “hello world” example in Chapter 2, where we used + instead of tf.add()).
Table 3-1 lists the available shortcuts.
Table 3-1. Common TensorFlow operations and their respective shortcuts
TensorFlow operator Shortcut Description
tf.add() a + b Adds a and b, element-wise.
tf.multiply() a * b Multiplies a and b, element-wise.
tf.subtract() a - b Subtracts a from b, element-wise.
tf.divide() a / b Computes Python-style division of a by b.
tf.pow() a ** b Returns the result of raising each element in a to its corresponding element b,
tf.mod() a % b Returns the element-wise modulo.
tf.logical_and() a & b Returns the truth table of a & b, element-wise. dtype must be tf.bool.
tf.greater() a > b Returns the truth table of a > b, element-wise.
tf.greater_equal() a >= b Returns the truth table of a >= b, element-wise.
tf.less_equal() a <= b Returns the truth table of a <= b, element-wise.
tf.less() a < b Returns the truth table of a < b, element-wise.
tf.negative() -a Returns the negative value of each element in a.
tf.logical_not() ~a Returns the logical NOT of each element in a. Only compatible with Tensor objects
with dtype of tf.bool.
tf.abs() abs(a) Returns the absolute value of each element in a.
tf.logical_or() a | b Returns the truth table of a | b, element-wise. dtype must be tf.bool.
Creating a Session and Running It
Once we are done describing the computation graph, we are ready to run the compu‐
tations that it represents. For this to happen, we need to create and run a session. We
do this by adding the following code:
sess = tf.Session()
outs = sess.run(f)
print("outs = {}".format(outs))
outs = 5
First, we launch the graph in a tf.Session. A Session object is the part of the Ten‐
sorFlow API that communicates between Python objects and data on our end, and
the actual computational system where memory is allocated for the objects we define,
intermediate variables are stored, and finally results are fetched for us.
sess = tf.Session()
26 | Chapter 3: Understanding TensorFlow Basics
The execution itself is then done with the .run() method of the Session
object. When called, this method completes one set of computations in our graph in
the following manner: it starts at the requested output(s) and then works backward,
computing nodes that must be executed according to the set of dependencies. There‐
fore, the part of the graph that will be computed depends on our output query.
In our example, we requested that node f be computed and got its value, 5, as output:
outs = sess.run(f)
When our computation task is completed, it is good practice to close the session
using the sess.close() command, making sure the resources used by our session are
freed up. This is an important practice to maintain even though we are not obligated
to do so for things to work:
Example 3-1. Try it yourself! Figure 3-3 shows another two graph examples. See if you
can produce these graphs yourself.
Figure 3-3. Can you create graphs A and B? (To produce the sine function, use tf.sin(x)).
Constructing and Managing Our Graph
As mentioned, as soon as we import TensorFlow, a default graph is automatically cre‐
ated for us. We can create additional graphs and control their association with some
given operations. tf.Graph() creates a new graph, represented as a TensorFlow
object. In this example we create another graph and assign it to the variable g:
Graphs, Sessions, and Fetches | 27
import tensorflow as tf
g = tf.Graph()
<tensorflow.python.framework.ops.Graph object at 0x7fd88c3c07d0>
<tensorflow.python.framework.ops.Graph object at 0x7fd88c3c03d0>
At this point we have two graphs: the default graph and the empty graph in g. Both
are revealed as TensorFlow objects when printed. Since g hasnt been assigned as the
default graph, any operation we create will not be associated with it, but rather with
the default one.
We can check which graph is currently set as the default by using
tf.get_default_graph(). Also, for a given node, we can view the graph its associ‐
ated with by using the <node>.graph attribute:
g = tf.Graph()
a = tf.constant(5)
print(a.graph is g)
print(a.graph is tf.get_default_graph())
In this code example we see that the operation we’ve created is associated with the
default graph and not with the graph in g.
To make sure our constructed nodes are associated with the right graph we can con‐
struct them using a very useful Python construct: the with statement.
The with statement
The with statement is used to wrap the execution of a block with
methods defined by a context manager—an object that has the spe‐
cial method functions .__enter__() to set up a block of code
and .__exit__() to exit the block.
In laymans terms, it’s very convenient in many cases to execute
some code that requires “setting up” of some kind (like opening a
file, SQL table, etc.) and then always “tearing it down” at the end,
regardless of whether the code ran well or raised any kind of excep‐
tion. In our case we use with to set up a graph and make sure every
piece of code will be performed in the context of that graph.
28 | Chapter 3: Understanding TensorFlow Basics
We use the with statement together with the as_default() command, which returns
a context manager that makes this graph the default one. This comes in handy when
working with multiple graphs:
g1 = tf.get_default_graph()
g2 = tf.Graph()
print(g1 is tf.get_default_graph())
with g2.as_default():
print(g1 is tf.get_default_graph())
print(g1 is tf.get_default_graph())
The with statement can also be used to start a session without having to explicitly
close it. This convenient trick will be used in the following examples.
In our initial graph example, we request one specific node (node f) by passing the
variable it was assigned to as an argument to the sess.run() method. This argument
is called fetches, corresponding to the elements of the graph we wish to com‐
pute. We can also ask sess.run() for multiple nodes’ outputs simply by inputting a
list of requested nodes:
with tf.Session() as sess:
fetches = [a,b,c,d,e,f]
outs = sess.run(fetches)
print("outs = {}".format(outs))
outs = [5, 2, 3, 10, 5, 5]
<type 'numpy.int32'>
We get back a list containing the outputs of the nodes according to how they were
ordered in the input list. The data in each item of the list is of type NumPy.
Graphs, Sessions, and Fetches | 29
NumPy is a popular and useful Python package for numerical com‐
puting that offers many functionalities related to working with
arrays. We assume some basic familiarity with this package, and it
will not be covered in this book. TensorFlow and NumPy are
tightly coupled—for example, the output returned by sess.run()
is a NumPy array. In addition, many of TensorFlow’s operations
share the same syntax as functions in NumPy. To learn more about
NumPy, we refer the reader to Eli Bresserts book SciPy and NumPy
We mentioned that TensorFlow computes only the essential nodes according to the
set of dependencies. This is also manifested in our example: when we ask for the out‐
put of node d, only the outputs of nodes a and b are computed. Another example is
shown in Figure 3-1(B). This is a great advantage of TensorFlow—it doesnt matter
how big and complicated our graph is as a whole, since we can run just a small por‐
tion of it as needed.
Automatically closing the session
Opening a session using the with clause will ensure the session is
automatically closed once all computations are done.
Flowing Tensors
In this section we will get a better understanding of how nodes and edges are actually
represented in TensorFlow, and how we can control their characteristics. To demon‐
strate how they work, we will focus on source operations, which are used to initialize
Nodes Are Operations, Edges Are Tensor Objects
When we construct a node in the graph, like we did with tf.add(), we are actually
creating an operation instance. These operations do not produce actual values until
the graph is executed, but rather reference their to-be-computed result as a handle
that can be passed on—ow—to another node. These handles, which we can think of
as the edges in our graph, are referred to as Tensor objects, and this is where the
name TensorFlow originates from.
TensorFlow is designed such that first a skeleton graph is created with all of its com‐
ponents. At this point no actual data flows in it and no computations take place. It is
only upon execution, when we run the session, that data enters the graph and compu‐
30 | Chapter 3: Understanding TensorFlow Basics
tations occur (as illustrated in Figure 3-4). This way, computations can be much more
efficient, taking the entire graph structure into consideration.
Figure 3-4. Illustrations of before (A) and aer (B) running a session. When the session
is run, actual data “ows” through the graph.
In the previous sections example, tf.constant() created a node with the corre‐
sponding passed value. Printing the output of the constructor, we see that its actually
a Tensor object instance. These objects have methods and attributes that control their
behavior and that can be defined upon creation.
In this example, the variable c stores a Tensor object with the name Const_52:0, des‐
ignated to contain a 32-bit floating-point scalar:
c = tf.constant(4.0)
Tensor("Const_52:0", shape=(), dtype=float32)
A note on constructors
The tf.<operator> function could be thought of as a constructor,
but to be more precise, this is actually not a constructor at all, but
rather a factory method that sometimes does quite a bit more than
just creating the operator objects.
Setting attributes with source operations
Each Tensor object in TensorFlow has attributes such as name, shape, and dtype that
help identify and set the characteristics of that object. These attributes are optional
Flowing Tensors | 31
when creating a node, and are set automatically by TensorFlow when missing. In the
next section we will take a look at these attributes. We will do so by looking at Tensor
objects created by ops known as source operations. Source operations are operations
that create data, usually without using any previously processed inputs. With these
operations we can create scalars, as we already encountered with the tf.constant()
method, as well as arrays and other types of data.
Data Types
The basic units of data that pass through a graph are numerical, Boolean, or string
elements. When we print out the Tensor object c from our last code example, we see
that its data type is a floating-point number. Since we didnt specify the type of data,
TensorFlow inferred it automatically. For example 5 is regarded as an integer, while
anything with a decimal point, like 5.1, is regarded as a floating-point number.
We can explicitly choose what data type we want to work with by specifying it when
we create the Tensor object. We can see what type of data was set for a given Tensor
object by using the attribute dtype:
c = tf.constant(4.0, dtype=tf.float64)
Tensor("Const_10:0", shape=(), dtype=float64)
<dtype: 'float64'>
Explicitly asking for (appropriately sized) integers is on the one hand more memory
conserving, but on the other may result in reduced accuracy as a consequence of not
tracking digits after the decimal point.
It is important to make sure our data types match throughout the graph—performing
an operation with two nonmatching data types will result in an exception. To change
the data type setting of a Tensor object, we can use the tf.cast() operation, passing
the relevant Tensor and the new data type of interest as the first and second argu‐
ments, respectively:
x = tf.constant([1,2,3],name='x',dtype=tf.float32)
x = tf.cast(x,tf.int64)
<dtype: 'float32'>
<dtype: 'int64'>
32 | Chapter 3: Understanding TensorFlow Basics
TensorFlow supports many data types. These are listed in Table 3-2.
Table 3-2. Supported Tensor data types
Data type Python type Description
DT_FLOAT tf.float32 32-bit oating point.
DT_DOUBLE tf.float64 64-bit oating point.
DT_INT8 tf.int8 8-bit signed integer.
DT_INT16 tf.int16 16-bit signed integer.
DT_INT32 tf.int32 32-bit signed integer.
DT_INT64 tf.int64 64-bit signed integer.
DT_UINT8 tf.uint8 8-bit unsigned integer.
DT_UINT16 tf.uint16 16-bit unsigned integer.
DT_STRING tf.string Variable-length byte array. Each element of a Tensor is a byte array.
DT_BOOL tf.bool Boolean.
DT_COMPLEX64 tf.complex64 Complex number made of two 32-bit oating points: real and imaginary parts.
DT_COMPLEX128 tf.complex128 Complex number made of two 64-bit oating points: real and imaginary parts.
DT_QINT8 tf.qint8 8-bit signed integer used in quantized ops.
DT_QINT32 tf.qint32 32-bit signed integer used in quantized ops.
DT_QUINT8 tf.quint8 8-bit unsigned integer used in quantized ops.
Tensor Arrays and Shapes
A source of potential confusion is that two different things are referred to by the
name, Tensor. As used in the previous sections, Tensor is the name of an object used
in the Python API as a handle for the result of an operation in the graph. However,
tensor is also a mathematical term for n-dimensional arrays. For example, a 1×1 ten‐
sor is a scalar, a 1×n tensor is a vector, an n×n tensor is a matrix, and an n×n×n tensor
is just a three-dimensional array. This, of course, generalizes to any dimension. Ten‐
sorFlow regards all the data units that flow in the graph as tensors, whether they are
multidimensional arrays, vectors, matrices, or scalars. The TensorFlow objects called
Tensors are named after these mathematical tensors.
To clarify the distinction between the two, from now on we will refer to the former as
Tensors with a capital T and the latter as tensors with a lowercase t.
As with dtype, unless stated explicitly, TensorFlow automatically infers the shape of
the data. When we printed out the Tensor object at the beginning of this section, it
showed that its shape was (), corresponding to the shape of a scalar.
Using scalars is good for demonstration purposes, but most of the time it’s much
more practical to work with multidimensional arrays. To initialize high-dimensional
arrays, we can use Python lists or NumPy arrays as inputs. In the following example,
Flowing Tensors | 33
we use as inputs a 2×3 matrix using a Python list and then a 3D NumPy array of size
2×2×3 (two matrices of size 2×3):
import numpy as np
c = tf.constant([[1,2,3],
print("Python List input: {}".format(c.get_shape()))
c = tf.constant(np.array([
print("3d NumPy array input: {}".format(c.get_shape()))
Python list input: (2, 3)
3d NumPy array input: (2, 2, 3)
The get_shape() method returns the shape of the tensor as a tuple of integers. The
number of integers corresponds to the number of dimensions of the tensor, and each
integer is the number of array entries along that dimension. For example, a shape of
(2,3) indicates a matrix, since it has two integers, and the size of the matrix is 2×3.
Other types of source operation constructors are very useful for initializing constants
in TensorFlow, like filling a constant value, generating random numbers, and creating
Random-number generators have special importance as they are used in many cases
to create the initial values for TensorFlow Variables, which will be introduced
shortly. For example, we can generate random numbers from a normal distribution
using tf.random.normal(), passing the shape, mean, and standard deviation as the
first, second, and third arguments, respectively. Another two examples for useful ran‐
dom initializers are the truncated normal that, as its name implies, cuts off all values
below and above two standard deviations from the mean, and the uniform initializer
that samples values uniformly within some interval [a,b).
Examples of sampled values for each of these methods are shown in Figure 3-5.
34 | Chapter 3: Understanding TensorFlow Basics
Figure 3-5. 50,000 random samples generated from (A) standard normal distribution,
(B) truncated normal, and (C) uniform [–2,2).
Those who are familiar with NumPy will recognize some of the initializers, as they
share the same syntax. One example is the sequence generator tf.linspace(a, b,
n) that creates n evenly spaced values from a to b.
A feature that is convenient to use when we want to explore the data content of an
object is tf.InteractiveSession(). Using it and the .eval() method, we can get a
full look at the values without the need to constantly refer to the session object:
sess = tf.InteractiveSession()
c = tf.linspace(0.0, 4.0, 5)
print("The content of 'c':\n {}\n".format(c.eval()))
The content of 'c':
[ 0. 1. 2. 3. 4.]
Interactive sessions
tf.InteractiveSession() allows you to replace the usual tf.Ses
sion(), so that you dont need a variable holding the session for
running ops. This can be useful in interactive Python environ‐
ments, like when writing IPython notebooks, for instance.
We’ve mentioned only a few of the available source operations. Table 3-2 provides
short descriptions of more useful initializers.
Flowing Tensors | 35
TensorFlow operation Description
tf.constant(value)Creates a tensor populated with the value or values specied by the argument value
tf.fill(shape, value)Creates a tensor of shape shape and lls it with value
tf.zeros(shape)Returns a tensor of shape shape with all elements set to 0
tf.zeros_like(tensor)Returns a tensor of the same type and shape as tensor with all elements set to 0
tf.ones(shape)Returns a tensor of shape shape with all elements set to 1
tf.ones_like(tensor)Returns a tensor of the same type and shape as tensor with all elements set to 1
mean, stddev)
Outputs random values from a normal distribution
mal(shape, mean,
Outputs random values from a truncated normal distribution (values whose magnitude
is more than two standard deviations from the mean are dropped and re-picked)
form(shape, minval,
Generates values from a uniform distribution in the range [minval, maxval)
Randomly shues a tensor along its rst dimension
Matrix multiplication
This very useful arithmetic operation is performed in TensorFlow via the tf.mat
mul(A,B) function for two Tensor objects A and B.
Say we have a Tensor storing a matrix A and another storing a vector x, and we wish
to compute the matrix product of the two:
Ax = b
Before using matmul(), we need to make sure both have the same number of dimen‐
sions and that they are aligned correctly with respect to the intended multiplication.
In the following example, a matrix A and a vector x are created:
A = tf.constant([ [1,2,3],
[4,5,6] ])
x = tf.constant([1,0,1])
(2, 3)
In order to multiply them, we need to add a dimension to x, transforming it from a
1D vector to a 2D single-column matrix.
36 | Chapter 3: Understanding TensorFlow Basics
We can add another dimension by passing the Tensor to tf.expand_dims(), together
with the position of the added dimension as the second argument. By adding another
dimension in the second position (index 1), we get the desired outcome:
x = tf.expand_dims(x,1)
b = tf.matmul(A,x)
sess = tf.InteractiveSession()
print('matmul result:\n {}'.format(b.eval()))
(3, 1)
matmul result:
[[ 4]
If we want to flip an array, for example turning a column vector into a row vector or
vice versa, we can use the tf.transpose() function.
Each Tensor object also has an identifying name. This name is an intrinsic string
name, not to be confused with the name of the variable. As with dtype, we can use
the .name attribute to see the name of the object:
with tf.Graph().as_default():
c1 = tf.constant(4,dtype=tf.float64,name='c')
c2 = tf.constant(4,dtype=tf.int32,name='c')
The name of the Tensor object is simply the name of its corresponding operation (“c”;
concatenated with a colon), followed by the index of that tensor in the outputs of the
operation that produced it—it is possible to have more than one.
Flowing Tensors | 37
Duplicate names
Objects residing within the same graph cannot have the same name
—TensorFlow forbids it. As a consequence, it will automatically
add an underscore and a number to distinguish the two. Of course,
both objects can have the same name when they are associated with
different graphs.
Name scopes
Sometimes when dealing with a large, complicated graph, we would like to create
some node grouping to make it easier to follow and manage. For that we can hier‐
archically group nodes together by name. We do so by using tf.name_scope("pre
fix") together with the useful with clause again:
with tf.Graph().as_default():
c1 = tf.constant(4,dtype=tf.float64,name='c')
with tf.name_scope("prefix_name"):
c2 = tf.constant(4,dtype=tf.int32,name='c')
c3 = tf.constant(4,dtype=tf.float64,name='c')
In this example weve grouped objects contained in variables c2 and c3 under the
scope prefix_name, which shows up as a prefix in their names.
Prefixes are especially useful when we would like to divide a graph into subgraphs
with some semantic meaning. These parts can later be used, for instance, for visuali‐
zation of the graph structure.
Variables, Placeholders, and Simple Optimization
In this section we will cover two important types of Tensor objects: Variables and pla‐
ceholders. We then move forward to the main event: optimization. We will briefly
talk about all the basic components for optimizing a model, and then do some simple
demonstration that puts everything together.
The optimization process serves to tune the parameters of some given model. For
that purpose, TensorFlow uses special objects called Variables. Unlike other Tensor
38 | Chapter 3: Understanding TensorFlow Basics
objects that are “refilled” with data each time we run the session, Variables can main‐
tain a fixed state in the graph. This is important because their current state might
influence how they change in the following iteration. Like other Tensors, Variables
can be used as input for other operations in the graph.
Using Variables is done in two stages. First we call the tf.Variable() function in
order to create a Variable and define what value it will be initialized with. We then
have to explicitly perform an initialization operation by running the session with the
tf.global_variables_initializer() method, which allocates the memory for the
Variable and sets its initial values.
Like other Tensor objects, Variables are computed only when the model runs, as we
can see in the following example:
init_val = tf.random_normal((1,5),0,1)
var = tf.Variable(init_val, name='var')
print("pre run: \n{}".format(var))
init = tf.global_variables_initializer()
with tf.Session() as sess:
post_var = sess.run(var)
print("\npost run: \n{}".format(post_var))
pre run:
Tensor("var/read:0", shape=(1, 5), dtype=float32)
post run:
[[ 0.85962135 0.64885855 0.25370994 -0.37380791 0.63552463]]
Note that if we run the code again, we see that a new variable is created each time, as
indicated by the automatic concatenation of _1 to its name:
pre run:
Tensor("var_1/read:0", shape=(1, 5), dtype=float32)
This could be very inefficient when we want to reuse the model (complex models
could have many variables!); for example, when we wish to feed it with several differ‐
ent inputs. To reuse the same variable, we can use the tf.get_variables() function
instead of tf.Variable(). More on this can be found in Model Structuring on page
203 of the appendix.
So far we’ve used source operations to create our input data. TensorFlow, however,
has designated built-in structures for feeding input values. These structures are called
placeholders. Placeholders can be thought of as empty Variables that will be filled with
Variables, Placeholders, and Simple Optimization | 39
data later on. We use them by first constructing our graph and only when it is exe‐
cuted feeding them with the input data.
Placeholders have an optional shape argument. If a shape is not fed or is passed as
None, then the placeholder can be fed with data of any size. It is common to use
None for the dimension of a matrix that corresponds to the number of samples (usu‐
ally rows), while having the length of the features (usually columns) fixed:
ph = tf.placeholder(tf.float32,shape=(None,10))
Whenever we define a placeholder, we must feed it with some input values or else an
exception will be thrown. The input data is passed to the session.run() method as a
dictionary, where each key corresponds to a placeholder variable name, and the
matching values are the data values given in the form of a list or a NumPy array:
sess.run(s,feed_dict={x: X_data,w: w_data})
Lets see how it looks with another graph example, this time with placeholders for two
inputs: a matrix x and a vector w. These inputs are matrix-multiplied to create a five-
unit vector xw and added with a constant vector b filled with the value -1. Finally, the
variable s takes the maximum value of that vector by using the tf.reduce_max()
operation. The word reduce is used because we are reducing a five-unit vector to a
single scalar:
x_data = np.random.randn(5,10)
w_data = np.random.randn(10,1)
with tf.Graph().as_default():
x = tf.placeholder(tf.float32,shape=(5,10))
w = tf.placeholder(tf.float32,shape=(10,1))
b = tf.fill((5,1),-1.)
xw = tf.matmul(x,w)
xwb = xw + b
s = tf.reduce_max(xwb)
with tf.Session() as sess:
outs = sess.run(s,feed_dict={x: x_data,w: w_data})
print("outs = {}".format(outs))
outs = 3.06512
Now we turn to optimization. We first describe the basics of training a model, giving
a short description of each component in the process, and show how it is performed
in TensorFlow. We then demonstrate a full working example of an optimization pro‐
cess of a simple regression model.
40 | Chapter 3: Understanding TensorFlow Basics
Training to predict
We have some target variable y, which we want to explain using some feature vector
x. To do so, we first choose a model that relates the two. Our training data points will
be used for “tuning” the model so that it best captures the desired relation. In the fol‐
lowing chapters we focus on deep neural network models, but for now we will settle
for a simple regression problem.
Lets start by describing our regression model:
f(xi) = wTxi + b
yi = f(xi) + εi
f(xi) is assumed to be a linear combination of some input data xi, with a set of
weights w and an intercept b. Our target output yi is a noisy version of f(xi) after being
summed with Gaussian noise εi (where i denotes a given sample).
As in the previous example, we will need to create the appropriate placeholders for
our input and output data and Variables for our weights and intercept:
x = tf.placeholder(tf.float32,shape=[None,3])
y_true = tf.placeholder(tf.float32,shape=None)
w = tf.Variable([[0,0,0]],dtype=tf.float32,name='weights')
b = tf.Variable(0,dtype=tf.float32,name='bias')
Once the placeholders and Variables are defined, we can write down our model. In
this example, its simply a multivariate linear regression—our predicted output
y_pred is the result of a matrix multiplication of our input container x and our
weights w plus a bias term b:
y_pred = tf.matmul(w,tf.transpose(x)) + b
Dening a loss function
Next, we need a good measure with which we can evaluate the models performance.
To capture the discrepancy between our models predictions and the observed tar‐
gets, we need a measure reflecting “distance.” This distance is often referred to as an
objective or a loss function, and we optimize the model by finding the set of parame‐
ters (weights and bias in this case) that minimize it.
There is no ideal loss function, and choosing the most suitable one is often a blend of
art and science. The choice may depend on several factors, like the assumptions of
our model, how easy it is to minimize, and what types of mistakes we prefer to avoid.
MSE and cross entropy
Perhaps the most commonly used loss is the MSE (mean squared error), where for all
samples we average the squared distances between the real target and what our model
predicts across samples:
Variables, Placeholders, and Simple Optimization | 41
L y,y=1
nΣi= 1
This loss has intuitive interpretation—it minimizes the mean square difference
between an observed value and the models fitted value (these differences are referred
to as residuals).
In our linear regression example, we take the difference between the vector y_true
(y), the true targets, and y_pred (ŷ), the models predictions, and use tf.square() to
compute the square of the difference vector. This operation is applied element-wise.
We then average the squared differences using the tf.reduce_mean() function:
loss = tf.reduce_mean(tf.square(y_true-y_pred))
Another very common loss, especially for categorical data, is the cross entropy, which
we used in the softmax classifier in the previous chapter. The cross entropy is given
H(p,q)=-Σxp(x) log q(x)
and for classification with a single correct label (as is the case in an overwhelming
majority of the cases) reduces to the negative log of the probability placed by the clas‐
sifier on the correct label.
In TensorFlow:
loss = tf.nn.sigmoid_cross_entropy_with_logits(labels=y_true,logits=y_pred)
loss = tf.reduce_mean(loss)
Cross entropy is a measure of similarity between two distributions. Since the classifi‐
cation models used in deep learning typically output probabilities for each class, we
can compare the true class (distribution p) with the probabilities of each class given
by the model (distribution q). The more similar the two distributions, the smaller our
cross entropy will be.
The gradient descent optimizer
The next thing we need to figure out is how to minimize the loss function. While in
some cases it is possible to find the global minimum analytically (when it exists), in
the great majority of cases we will have to use an optimization algorithm. Optimizers
update the set of weights iteratively in a way that decreases the loss over time.
The most commonly used approach is gradient descent, where we use the losss gradi‐
ent with respect to the set of weights. In slightly more technical terms, if our loss is
some multivariate function F(w
), then in the neighborhood of some point w
0, the
steepest” direction of decrease of F(w
) is obtained by moving from w
0 in the direc‐
tion of the negative gradient of F at w
42 | Chapter 3: Understanding TensorFlow Basics
So if w
1 = w
0) where
0) is the gradient of F evaluated at w
0, then for a
small enough γ:
0) F(w
The gradient descent algorithms work well on highly complicated network architec‐
tures and therefore are suitable for a wide variety of problems. More specifically,
recent advances make it possible to compute these gradients by utilizing massively
parallel systems, so the approach scales well with dimensionality (though it can still
be painfully time-consuming for large real-world problems). While convergence to
the global minimum is guaranteed for convex functions, for nonconvex problems
(which are essentially all problems in the world of deep learning) they can get stuck
in local minima. In practice, this is often good enough, as is evidenced by the huge
success of the field of deep learning.
Sampling methods
The gradient of the objective is computed with respect to the model parameters and
evaluated using a given set of input samples, xs. How many of the samples should we
take for this calculation? Intuitively, it makes sense to calculate the gradient for the
entire set of samples in order to benefit from the maximum amount of available
information. This method, however, has some shortcomings. For example, it can be
very slow and is intractable when the dataset requires more memory than is available.
A more popular technique is the stochastic gradient descent (SGD), where instead of
feeding the entire dataset to the algorithm for the computation of each step, a subset
of the data is sampled sequentially. The number of samples ranges from one sample at
a time to a few hundred, but the most common sizes are between around 50 to
around 500 (usually referred to as mini-batches).
Using smaller batches usually works faster, and the smaller the size of the batch, the
faster are the calculations. However, there is a trade-off in that small samples lead to
lower hardware utilization and tend to have high variance, causing large fluctuations
to the objective function. Nevertheless, it turns out that some fluctuations are benefi‐
cial since they enable the set of parameters to jump to new and potentially better local
minima. Using a relatively smaller batch size is therefore effective in that regard, and
is currently overall the preferred approach.
Gradient descent in TensorFlow
TensorFlow makes it very easy and intuitive to use gradient descent algorithms. Opti‐
mizers in TensorFlow compute the gradients simply by adding new operations to the
graph, and the gradients are calculated using automatic differentiation. This means,
in general terms, that TensorFlow automatically computes the gradients on its own,
deriving” them from the operations and structure of the computation graph.
Variables, Placeholders, and Simple Optimization | 43
An important parameter to set is the algorithms learning rate, determining how
aggressive each update iteration will be (or in other words, how large the step will be
in the direction of the negative gradient). We want the decrease in the loss to be fast
enough on the one hand, but on the other hand not large enough so that we over-
shoot the target and end up at a point with a higher value of the loss function.
We first create an optimizer by using the GradientDescentOptimizer() function
with the desired learning rate. We then create a train operation that updates our vari‐
ables by calling the optimizer.minimize() function and passing in the loss as an
optimizer = tf.train.GradientDescentOptimizer(learning_rate)
train = optimizer.minimize(loss)
The train operation is then executed when it is fed to the sess.run() method.
Wrapping it up with examples
Were all set to go! Lets combine all the components weve discussed in this section
and optimize the parameters of two models: linear and logistic regression. In these
examples we will create synthetic data with known properties, and see how the model
is able to recover these properties with the process of optimization.
Example 1: linear regression. In this problem we are interested in retrieving a set of
weights w and a bias term b, assuming our target value is a linear combination of
some input vector x, with an additional Gaussian noise εi added to each sample.
For this exercise we will generate synthetic data using NumPy. We create 2,000 sam‐
ples of x, a vector with three features, take the inner product of each x sample with a
set of weights w ([0.3, 0.5, 0.1]), and add a bias term b (–0.2) and Gaussian noise to
the result:
import numpy as np
# === Create data and simulate results =====
x_data = np.random.randn(2000,3)
w_real = [0.3,0.5,0.1]
b_real = -0.2
noise = np.random.randn(1,2000)*0.1
y_data = np.matmul(w_real,x_data.T) + b_real + noise
The noisy samples are shown in Figure 3-6.
44 | Chapter 3: Understanding TensorFlow Basics
Figure 3-6. Generated data to use for linear regression: each lled circle represents a
sample, and the dashed line shows the expected values without the noise component (the
Next, we estimate our set of weights w and bias b by optimizing the model (i.e., find‐
ing the best parameters) so that its predictions match the real targets as closely as
possible. Each iteration computes one update to the current parameters. In this exam‐
ple we run 10 iterations, printing our estimated parameters every 5 iterations using
the sess.run() method.
Dont forget to initialize the variables! In this example we initialize both the weights
and the bias with zeros; however, there are “smarter” initialization techniques to
choose, as we will see in the next chapters. We use name scopes to group together
parts that are related to inferring the output, defining the loss, and setting and creat‐
ing the train object:
g = tf.Graph()
wb_ = []
with g.as_default():
x = tf.placeholder(tf.float32,shape=[None,3])
y_true = tf.placeholder(tf.float32,shape=None)
with tf.name_scope('inference') as scope:
w = tf.Variable([[0,0,0]],dtype=tf.float32,name='weights')
b = tf.Variable(0,dtype=tf.float32,name='bias')
y_pred = tf.matmul(w,tf.transpose(x)) + b
with tf.name_scope('loss') as scope:
loss = tf.reduce_mean(tf.square(y_true-y_pred))
Variables, Placeholders, and Simple Optimization | 45
with tf.name_scope('train') as scope:
learning_rate = 0.5
optimizer = tf.train.GradientDescentOptimizer(learning_rate)
train = optimizer.minimize(loss)
# Before starting, initialize the variables. We will 'run' this first.
init = tf.global_variables_initializer()
with tf.Session() as sess:
for step in range(NUM_STEPS):
sess.run(train,{x: x_data, y_true: y_data})
if (step % 5 == 0):
print(step, sess.run([w,b]))
print(10, sess.run([w,b]))
And we get the results:
(0, [array([[ 0.30149955, 0.49303722, 0.11409992]],
dtype=float32), -0.18563795])
(5, [array([[ 0.30094019, 0.49846715, 0.09822173]],
dtype=float32), -0.19780949])
(10, [array([[ 0.30094025, 0.49846718, 0.09822182]],
dtype=float32), -0.19780946])
After only 10 iterations, the estimated weights and bias are w = [0.301, 0.498, 0.098]
and b = –0.198. The original parameter values were w = [0.3,0.5,0.1] and b = –0.2.
Almost a perfect match!
Example 2: logistic regression. Again we wish to retrieve the weights and bias compo‐
nents in a simulated data setting, this time in a logistic regression framework. Here
the linear component wTx + b is the input of a nonlinear function called the logistic
function. What it effectively does is squash the values of the linear part into the inter‐
val [0, 1]:
Pr(yi = 1|xi) = 1
1 + expwxi+b
We then regard these values as probabilities from which binary yes/1 or no/0 out‐
comes are generated. This is the nondeterministic (noisy) part of the model.
The logistic function is more general, and can be used with a different set of parame‐
ters for the steepness of the curve and its maximum value. This special case of a logis‐
tic function we are using is also referred to as a sigmoid function.
We generate our samples by using the same set of weights and biases as in the previ‐
ous example:
46 | Chapter 3: Understanding TensorFlow Basics
N = 20000
def sigmoid(x):
return 1 / (1 + np.exp(-x))
# === Create data and simulate results =====
x_data = np.random.randn(N,3)
w_real = [0.3,0.5,0.1]
b_real = -0.2
wxb = np.matmul(w_real,x_data.T) + b_real
y_data_pre_noise = sigmoid(wxb)
y_data = np.random.binomial(1,y_data_pre_noise)
The outcome samples before and after the binarization of the output are shown in
Figure 3-7.
Figure 3-7. Generated data to use for logistic regression: each circle represents a sample.
In the le plot we see the probabilities generated by inputting the linear combination of
the input data to the logistic function. e right plot shows the binary target output, ran‐
domly sampled from the probabilities in the le image.
The only thing we need to change in the code is the loss function we use.
The loss we want to use here is the binary version of the cross entropy, which is also
the likelihood of the logistic regression model:
y_pred = tf.sigmoid(y_pred)
loss = y_true*tf.log(y_pred) - (1-y_true)*tf.log(1-y_pred)
loss = tf.reduce_mean(loss)
Luckily, TensorFlow already has a designated function we can use instead:
Variables, Placeholders, and Simple Optimization | 47
To which we simply need to pass the true outputs and the models linear predictions:
with tf.name_scope('loss') as scope:
loss = tf.nn.sigmoid_cross_entropy_with_logits(labels=y_true,logits=y_pred)
loss = tf.reduce_mean(loss)
# Before starting, initialize the variables. We will 'run' this first.
init = tf.global_variables_initializer()
with tf.Session() as sess:
for step in range(NUM_STEPS):
sess.run(train,{x: x_data, y_true: y_data})
if (step % 5 == 0):
print(step, sess.run([w,b]))
print(50, sess.run([w,b]))
Lets see what we get:
(0, [array([[ 0.03212515, 0.05890014, 0.01086476]],
dtype=float32), -0.021875083])
(5, [array([[ 0.14185661, 0.25990966, 0.04818931]],
dtype=float32), -0.097346731])
(10, [array([[ 0.20022796, 0.36665651, 0.06824245]],
dtype=float32), -0.13804035])
(15, [array([[ 0.23269908, 0.42593899, 0.07949805]],
dtype=float32), -0.1608445])
(20, [array([[ 0.2512995 , 0.45984453, 0.08599731]],
dtype=float32), -0.17395383])
(25, [array([[ 0.26214141, 0.47957924, 0.08981277]],
dtype=float32), -0.1816061])
(30, [array([[ 0.26852587, 0.49118528, 0.09207394]],
dtype=float32), -0.18611355])
(35, [array([[ 0.27230808, 0.49805275, 0.09342111]],
dtype=float32), -0.18878292])
(40, [array([[ 0.27455658, 0.50213116, 0.09422609]],
dtype=float32), -0.19036882])
(45, [array([[ 0.27589601, 0.5045585 , 0.09470785]],
dtype=float32), -0.19131286])
(50, [array([[ 0.27656636, 0.50577223, 0.09494986]],
dtype=float32), -0.19178495])
It takes a few more iterations to converge, and more samples are required than in the
previous linear regression example, but eventually we get results that are quite similar
to the original chosen weights.
48 | Chapter 3: Understanding TensorFlow Basics
In this chapter we learned about computation graphs and what we can use them for.
We saw how to create a graph and how to compute its outputs. We introduced the
main building blocks of TensorFlow—the Tensor object, representing the graphs
operations, placeholders for our input data, and Variables we tune as part of the
model training process. We learned about tensor arrays and covered the data type,
shape, and name attributes. Finally, we discussed the model optimization process and
saw how to implement it in TensorFlow. In the next chapter we will go into more
advanced deep neural networks used in computer vision.
Summary | 49
Convolutional Neural Networks
In this chapter we introduce convolutional neural networks (CNNs) and the building
blocks and methods associated with them. We start with a simple model for classifica‐
tion of the MNIST dataset, then we introduce the CIFAR10 object-recognition data‐
set and apply several CNN models to it. While small and fast, the CNNs presented in
this chapter are highly representative of the type of models used in practice to obtain
state-of-the-art results in object-recognition tasks.
Introduction to CNNs
Convolutional neural networks have gained a special status over the last few years as
an especially promising form of deep learning. Rooted in image processing, convolu‐
tional layers have found their way into virtually all subfields of deep learning, and are
very successful for the most part.
The fundamental difference between fully connected and convolutional neural net‐
works is the pattern of connections between consecutive layers. In the fully connected
case, as the name might suggest, each unit is connected to all of the units in the previ‐
ous layer. We saw an example of this in Chapter 2, where the 10 output units were
connected to all of the input image pixels.
In a convolutional layer of a neural network, on the other hand, each unit is connec‐
ted to a (typically small) number of nearby units in the previous layer. Furthermore,
all units are connected to the previous layer in the same way, with the exact same
weights and structure. This leads to an operation known as convolution, giving the
architecture its name (see Figure 4-1 for an illustration of this idea). In the next sec‐
tion, we go into the convolution operation in some more detail, but in a nutshell all it
means for us is applying a small “window” of weights (also known as lters) across an
image, as illustrated in Figure 4-2 later.
Figure 4-1. In a fully connected layer (le), each unit is connected to all units of the pre‐
vious layers. In a convolutional layer (right), each unit is connected to a constant num‐
ber of units in a local region of the previous layer. Furthermore, in a convolutional layer,
the units all share the weights for these connections, as indicated by the shared linetypes.
There are motivations commonly cited as leading to the CNN approach, coming
from different schools of thought. The first angle is the so-called neuroscientific
inspiration behind the model. The second deals with insight into the nature of
images, and the third relates to learning theory. We will go over each of these shortly
before diving into the actual mechanics.
It has been popular to describe neural networks in general, and specifically convolu‐
tional neural networks, as biologically inspired models of computation. At times,
claims go as far as to state that these mimic the way the brain performs computa‐
tions. While misleading when taken at face value, the biological analogy is of some
The Nobel Prize–winning neurophysiologists Hubel and Wiesel discovered as early as
the 1960s that the first stages of visual processing in the brain consist of application of
the same local filter (e.g., edge detectors) to all parts of the visual field. The current
understanding in the neuroscientific community is that as visual processing proceeds,
information is integrated from increasingly wider parts of the input, and this is done
Convolutional neural networks follow the same pattern. Each convolutional layer
looks at an increasingly larger part of the image as we go deeper into the network.
Most commonly, this will be followed by fully connected layers that in the biologically
inspired analogy act as the higher levels of visual processing dealing with global
The second angle, more hard fact engineering–oriented, stems from the nature of
images and their contents. When looking for an object in an image, say the face of a
cat, we would typically want to be able to detect it regardless of its position in the
image. This reflects the property of natural images that the same content may be
found in different locations of an image. This is property is known as an invariance
52 | Chapter 4: Convolutional Neural Networks
invariances of this sort can also be expected with respect to (small) rotations, chang‐
ing lighting conditions, etc.
Correspondingly, when building an object-recognition system, it should be invariant
to translation (and, depending on the scenario, probably also rotation and deforma‐
tions of many sorts, but that is another matter). Put simply, it therefore makes sense
to perform the same exact computation on different parts of the image. In this view, a
convolutional neural network layer computes the same features of an image, across
all spatial areas.
Finally, the convolutional structure can be seen as a regularization mechanism. In this
view, convolutional layers are like fully connected layers, but instead of searching for
weights in the full space of matrices (of certain size), we limit the search to matrices
describing fixed-size convolutions, reducing the number of degrees of freedom to the
size of the convolution, which is typically very small.
The term regularization is used throughout this book. In machine
learning and statistics, regularization is mostly used to refer to the
restriction of an optimization problem by imposing a penalty on
the complexity of the solution, in the attempt to prevent overfitting
to the given examples.
Overfitting occurs when a rule (for instance, a classifier) is compu‐
ted in a way that explains the training set, but with poor generaliza‐
tion to unseen data.
Regularization is most often applied by adding implicit informa‐
tion regarding the desired results (this could take the form of say‐
ing we would rather have a smoother function, when searching a
function space). In the convolutional neural network case, we
explicitly state that we are looking for weights in a relatively low-
dimensional subspace corresponding to fixed-size convolutions.
In this chapter we cover the types of layers and operations associated with convolu‐
tional neural networks. We start by revisiting the MNIST dataset, this time applying a
model with approximately 99% accuracy. Next, we move on to the more interesting
object recognition CIFAR10 dataset.
In this section we take a second look at the MNIST dataset, this time applying a small
convolutional neural network as our classifier. Before doing so, there are several ele‐
ments and operations that we must get acquainted with.
MNIST: Take II | 53
The convolution operation, as you probably expect from the name of the architec‐
ture, is the fundamental means by which layers are connected in convolutional neu‐
ral networks. We use the built-in TensorFlow conv2d():
tf.nn.conv2d(x, W, strides=[1, 1, 1, 1], padding='SAME')
Here, x is the data—the input image, or a downstream feature map obtained further
along in the network, after applying previous convolution layers. As discussed previ‐
ously, in typical CNN models we stack convolutional layers hierarchically, and feature
map is simply a commonly used term referring to the output of each such layer.
Another way to view the output of these layers is as processed images, the result of
applying a filter and perhaps some other operations. Here, this filter is parameterized
by W, the learned weights of our network representing the convolution filter. This is
just the set of weights in the small “sliding window” we see in Figure 4-2.
Figure 4-2. e same convolutional lter—asliding window”—applied across an image.
The output of this operation will depend on the shape of x and W, and in our case is
four-dimensional. The image data x will be of shape:
[None, 28, 28, 1]
54 | Chapter 4: Convolutional Neural Networks
meaning that we have an unknown number of images, each 28×28 pixels and with
one color channel (since these are grayscale images). The weights W we use will be of
[5, 5, 1, 32]
where the initial 5×5×1 represents the size of the small “window” in the image to be
convolved, in our case a 5×5 region. In images that have multiple color channels
(RGB, as briefly discussed in Chapter 1), we regard each image as a three-
dimensional tensor of RGB values, but in this one-channel data they are just two-
dimensional, and convolutional filters are applied to two-dimensional regions. Later,
when we tackle the CIFAR10 data, we’ll see examples of multiple-channel images and
how to set the size of weights W accordingly.
The final 32 is the number of feature maps. In other words, we have multiple sets of
weights for the convolutional layer—in this case, 32 of them. Recall that the idea of a
convolutional layer is to compute the same feature along the image; we would simply
like to compute many such features and thus use multiple sets of convolutional filters.
The strides argument controls the spatial movement of the filter W across the image
(or feature map) x.
The value [1, 1, 1, 1] means that the filter is applied to the input in one-pixel
intervals in each dimension, corresponding to a “full” convolution. Other settings of
this argument allow us to introduce skips in the application of the filter—a common
practice that we apply later—thus making the resulting feature map smaller.
Finally, setting padding to 'SAME' means that the borders of x are padded such that
the size of the result of the operation is the same as the size of x.
MNIST: Take II | 55
Activation functions
Following linear layers, whether convolutional or fully connected,
it is common practice to apply nonlinear activation functions (see
Figure 4-3 for some examples). One practical aspect of activation
functions is that consecutive linear operations can be replaced by a
single one, and thus depth doesnt contribute to the expressiveness
of the model unless we use nonlinear activations between the linear
Figure 4-3. Common activation functions: logistic (le), hyperbolic tangent
(center), and rectifying linear unit (right)
It is common to follow convolutional layers with pooling of outputs. Technically,
pooling means reducing the size of the data with some local aggregation function, typ‐
ically within each feature map.
The reasoning behind this is both technical and more theoretical. The technical
aspect is that pooling reduces the size of the data to be processed downstream. This
can drastically reduce the number of overall parameters in the model, especially if we
use fully connected layers after the convolutional ones.
The more theoretical reason for applying pooling is that we would like our computed
features not to care about small changes in position in an image. For instance, a fea‐
ture looking for eyes in the top-right part of an image should not change too much if
we move the camera a bit to the right when taking the picture, moving the eyes
slightly to the center of the image. Aggregating the “eye-detector feature” spatially
allows the model to overcome such spatial variability between images, capturing
some form of invariance as discussed at the beginning of this chapter.
In our example we apply the max pooling operation on 2×2 blocks of each feature
tf.nn.max_pool(x, ksize=[1, 2, 2, 1], strides=[1, 2, 2, 1], padding='SAME')
Max pooling outputs the maximum of the input in each region of a predefined size
(here 2×2). The ksize argument controls the size of the pooling (2×2), and the
strides argument controls by how much we “slide” the pooling grids across x, just as
56 | Chapter 4: Convolutional Neural Networks
in the case of the convolution layer. Setting this to a 2×2 grid means that the output of
the pooling will be exactly one-half of the height and width of the original, and in
total one-quarter of the size.
The final element we will need for our model is dropout. This is a regularization trick
used in order to force the network to distribute the learned representation across all
the neurons. Dropout “turns off” a random preset fraction of the units in a layer, by
setting their values to zero during training. These dropped-out neurons are random
—different for each computation—forcing the network to learn a representation that
will work even after the dropout. This process is often thought of as training an
ensemble” of multiple networks, thereby increasing generalization. When using the
network as a classifier at test time (“inference”), there is no dropout and the full net‐
work is used as is.
The only argument in our example other than the layer we would like to apply drop‐
out to is keep_prob, the fraction of the neurons to keep working at each step:
tf.nn.dropout(layer, keep_prob=keep_prob)
In order to be able to change this value (which we must do, since for testing we would
like this to be 1.0, meaning no dropout at all), we will use a tf.Variable and pass
one value for train (.5) and another for test (1.0).
The Model
First, we define helper functions that will be used extensively throughout this chapter
to create our layers. Doing this allows the actual model to be short and readable (later
in the book we will see that there exist several frameworks for greater abstraction of
deep learning building blocks, which allow us to concentrate on rapidly designing our
networks rather than the somewhat tedious work of defining all the necessary ele‐
ments). Our helper functions are:
def weight_variable(shape):
initial = tf.truncated_normal(shape, stddev=0.1)
return tf.Variable(initial)
def bias_variable(shape):
initial = tf.constant(0.1, shape=shape)
return tf.Variable(initial)
def conv2d(x, W):
return tf.nn.conv2d(x, W, strides=[1, 1, 1, 1], padding='SAME')
MNIST: Take II | 57
def max_pool_2x2(x):
return tf.nn.max_pool(x, ksize=[1, 2, 2, 1],
strides=[1, 2, 2, 1], padding='SAME')
def conv_layer(input, shape):
W = weight_variable(shape)
b = bias_variable([shape[3]])
return tf.nn.relu(conv2d(input, W) + b)
def full_layer(input, size):
in_size = int(input.get_shape()[1])
W = weight_variable([in_size, size])
b = bias_variable([size])
return tf.matmul(input, W) + b
Lets take a closer look at these:
This specifies the weights for either fully connected or convolutional layers of the
network. They are initialized randomly using a truncated normal distribution
with a standard deviation of .1. This sort of initialization with a random normal
distribution that is truncated at the tails is pretty common and generally pro‐
duces good results (see the upcoming note on random initialization).
This defines the bias elements in either a fully connected or a convolutional layer.
These are all initialized with the constant value of .1.
This specifies the convolution we will typically use. A full convolution (no skips)
with an output the same size as the input.
This sets the max pool to half the size across the height/width dimensions, and in
total a quarter the size of the feature map.
This is the actual layer we will use. Linear convolution as defined in conv2d, with
a bias, followed by the ReLU nonlinearity.
A standard full layer with a bias. Notice that here we didn’t add the ReLU. This
allows us to use the same layer for the final output, where we don’t need the non‐
linear part.
With these layers defined, we are ready to set up our model (see the visualization in
Figure 4-4):
58 | Chapter 4: Convolutional Neural Networks
x = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, shape=[None, 784])
y_ = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, shape=[None, 10])
x_image = tf.reshape(x, [-1, 28, 28, 1])
conv1 = conv_layer(x_image, shape=[5, 5, 1, 32])
conv1_pool = max_pool_2x2(conv1)
conv2 = conv_layer(conv1_pool, shape=[5, 5, 32, 64])
conv2_pool = max_pool_2x2(conv2)
conv2_flat = tf.reshape(conv2_pool, [-1, 7*7*64])
full_1 = tf.nn.relu(full_layer(conv2_flat, 1024))
keep_prob = tf.placeholder(tf.float32)
full1_drop = tf.nn.dropout(full_1, keep_prob=keep_prob)
y_conv = full_layer(full1_drop, 10)
Figure 4-4. A visualization of the CNN architecture used.
Random initialization
In the previous chapter we discussed initializers of several types,
including the random initializer used here for our convolutional
layer’s weights:
initial = tf.truncated_normal(shape, stddev=0.1)
Much has been said about the importance of initialization in the
training of deep learning models. Put simply, a bad initialization
can make the training process “get stuck,” or fail completely due to
numerical issues. Using random rather than constant initializations
helps break the symmetry between learned features, allowing the
model to learn a diverse and rich representation. Using bound val‐
ues helps, among other things, to control the magnitude of the gra‐
dients, allowing the network to converge more efficiently.
MNIST: Take II | 59
We start by defining the placeholders for the images and correct labels, x and y_,
respectively. Next, we reshape the image data into the 2D image format with size
28×28×1. Recall we did not need this spatial aspect of the data for our previous
MNIST model, since all pixels were treated independently, but a major source of
power in the convolutional neural network framework is the utilization of this spatial
meaning when considering images.
Next we have two consecutive layers of convolution and pooling, each with 5×5 con‐
volutions and 64 feature maps, followed by a single fully connected layer with 1,024
units. Before applying the fully connected layer we flatten the image back to a single
vector form, since the fully connected layer no longer needs the spatial aspect.
Notice that the size of the image following the two convolution and pooling layers is
7×7×64. The original 28×28 pixel image is reduced first to 14×14, and then to 7×7 in
the two pooling operations. The 64 is the number of feature maps we created in the
second convolutional layer. When considering the total number of learned parame‐
ters in the model, a large proportion will be in the fully connected layer (going from
7×7×64 to 1,024 gives us 3.2 million parameters). This number would have been 16
times as large (i.e., 28×28×64×1,024, which is roughly 51 million) if we hadnt used
Finally, the output is a fully connected layer with 10 units, corresponding to the num‐
ber of labels in the dataset (recall that MNIST is a handwritten digit dataset, so the
number of possible labels is 10).
The rest is the same as in the first MNIST model in Chapter 2, with a few minor
We print the accuracy of the model on the batch used for training every 100
steps. This is done before the training step, and therefore is a good estimate of the
current performance of the model on the training set.
We split the test procedure into 10 blocks of 1,000 images each. Doing this is
important mostly for much larger datasets.
Heres the complete code:
mnist = input_data.read_data_sets(DATA_DIR, one_hot=True)
cross_entropy = tf.reduce_mean(tf.nn.softmax_cross_entropy_with_logits(y_conv,
train_step = tf.train.AdamOptimizer(1e-4).minimize(cross_entropy)
correct_prediction = tf.equal(tf.argmax(y_conv, 1), tf.argmax(y_, 1))
accuracy = tf.reduce_mean(tf.cast(correct_prediction, tf.float32))
60 | Chapter 4: Convolutional Neural Networks
1In machine learning and especially in deep learning, an epoc refers to a single pass over all the training data;
i.e., when the learning model has seen each training example exactly one time.
with tf.Session() as sess:
for i in range(STEPS):
batch = mnist.train.next_batch(50)
if i % 100 == 0:
train_accuracy = sess.run(accuracy, feed_dict={x: batch[0],
y_: batch[1],
keep_prob: 1.0})
print "step {}, training accuracy {}".format(i, train_accuracy)
sess.run(train_step, feed_dict={x: batch[0], y_: batch[1],
keep_prob: 0.5})
X = mnist.test.images.reshape(10, 1000, 784)
Y = mnist.test.labels.reshape(10, 1000, 10)
test_accuracy = np.mean([sess.run(accuracy,
feed_dict={x:X[i], y_:Y[i],keep_prob:1.0})
for i in range(10)])
print "test accuracy: {}".format(test_accuracy)
The performance of this model is already relatively good, with just over 99% correct
after as little as 5 epocs,1 which are 5,000 steps with mini-batches of size 50.
For a list of models that have been used over the years with this dataset, and some
ideas on how to further improve this result, take a look at http://yann.lecun.com/exdb/
CIFAR10 is another dataset with a long history in computer vision and machine
learning. Like MNIST, it is a common benchmark that various methods are tested
against. CIFAR10 is a set of 60,000 color images of size 32×32 pixels, each belonging
to one of ten categories: airplane, automobile, bird, cat, deer, dog, frog, horse, ship,
and truck.
State-of-the-art deep learning methods for this dataset are as good as humans at clas‐
sifying these images. In this section we start off with much simpler methods that will
run relatively quickly. Then, we discuss briefly what the gap is between these and the
state of the art.
CIFAR10 | 61
2This is done mostly for the purpose of illustration. There are existing open source libraries containing this
sort of data wrapper built in, for many popular datasets. See, for example, the datasets module in Keras
(keras.datasets), and specifically keras.datasets.cifar10.
Loading the CIFAR10 Dataset
In this section we build a data manager for CIFAR10, similarly to the built-in
input_data.read_data_sets() we used for MNIST.2
First, download the Python version of the dataset and extract the files into a local
directory. You should now have the following files:
data_batch_1, data_batch_2, data_batch_3, data_batch_4, data_batch_5
The data_batch_X files are serialized data files containing the training data, and
test_batch is a similar serialized file containing the test data. The batches_meta file
contains the mapping from numeric to semantic labels. The .html file is a copy of the
CIFAR-10 datasets web page.
Since this is a relatively small dataset, we load it all into memory:
class CifarLoader(object):
def __init__(self, source_files):
self._source = source_files
self._i = 0
self.images = None
self.labels = None
def load(self):
data = [unpickle(f) for f in self._source]
images = np.vstack([d["data"] for d in data])
n = len(images)
self.images = images.reshape(n, 3, 32, 32).transpose(0, 2, 3, 1)\
.astype(float) / 255
self.labels = one_hot(np.hstack([d["labels"] for d in data]), 10)
return self
def next_batch(self, batch_size):
x, y = self.images[self._i:self._i+batch_size],
self._i = (self._i + batch_size) % len(self.images)
return x, y
where we use the following utility functions:
DATA_PATH = "/path/to/CIFAR10"
62 | Chapter 4: Convolutional Neural Networks
def unpickle(file):
with open(os.path.join(DATA_PATH, file), 'rb') as fo:
dict = cPickle.load(fo)
return dict
def one_hot(vec, vals=10):
n = len(vec)
out = np.zeros((n, vals))
out[range(n), vec] = 1
return out
The unpickle() function returns a dict with fields data and labels, containing the
image data and the labels, respectively. one_hot() recodes the labels from integers (in
the range 0 to 9) to vectors of length 10, containing all 0s except for a 1 at the position
of the label.
Finally, we create a data manager that includes both the training and test data:
class CifarDataManager(object):
def __init__(self):
self.train = CifarLoader(["data_batch_{}".format(i)
for i in range(1, 6)])
self.test = CifarLoader(["test_batch"]).load()
Using Matplotlib, we can now use the data manager in order to display some of the
CIFAR10 images and get a better idea of what is in this dataset:
def display_cifar(images, size):
n = len(images)
im = np.vstack([np.hstack([images[np.random.choice(n)] for i in range(size)])
for i in range(size)])
d = CifarDataManager()
print "Number of train images: {}".format(len(d.train.images))
print "Number of train labels: {}".format(len(d.train.labels))
print "Number of test images: {}".format(len(d.test.images))
print "Number of test images: {}".format(len(d.test.labels))
images = d.train.images
display_cifar(images, 10)
Matplotlib is a useful Python library for plotting, designed to look
and behave like MATLAB plots. It is often the easiest way to
quickly plot and visualize a dataset.
CIFAR10 | 63
The display_cifar()function takes as arguments images (an iterable containing
images), and size (the number of images we would like to display), and constructs
and displays a size×size grid of images. This is done by concatenating the actual
images vertically and horizontally to form a large image.
Before displaying the image grid, we start by printing the sizes of the train/test sets.
CIFAR10 contains 50K training images and 10K test images:
Number of train images: 50000
Number of train labels: 50000
Number of test images: 10000
Number of test images: 10000
The image produced and shown in Figure 4-5 is meant to give some idea of what
CIFAR10 images actually look like. Notably, these small, 32×32 pixel images each
contain a full single object that is both centered and more or less recognizable even at
this resolution.
Figure 4-5. 100 random CIFAR10 images.
Simple CIFAR10 Models
We will start by using the model that we have previously used successfully for the
MNIST dataset. Recall that the MNIST dataset is composed of 28×28-pixel grayscale
images, while the CIFAR10 images are color images with 32×32 pixels. This will
necessitate minor adaptations to the setup of the computation graph:
64 | Chapter 4: Convolutional Neural Networks
3See Who Is the Best in CIFAR-10? for a list of methods and associated papers.
cifar = CifarDataManager()
x = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, shape=[None, 32, 32, 3])
y_ = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, shape=[None, 10])
keep_prob = tf.placeholder(tf.float32)
conv1 = conv_layer(x, shape=[5, 5, 3, 32])
conv1_pool = max_pool_2x2(conv1)
conv2 = conv_layer(conv1_pool, shape=[5, 5, 32, 64])
conv2_pool = max_pool_2x2(conv2)
conv2_flat = tf.reshape(conv2_pool, [-1, 8 * 8 * 64])
full_1 = tf.nn.relu(full_layer(conv2_flat, 1024))
full1_drop = tf.nn.dropout(full_1, keep_prob=keep_prob)
y_conv = full_layer(full1_drop, 10)
cross_entropy = tf.reduce_mean(tf.nn.softmax_cross_entropy_with_logits(y_conv,
train_step = tf.train.AdamOptimizer(1e-3).minimize(cross_entropy)
correct_prediction = tf.equal(tf.argmax(y_conv, 1), tf.argmax(y_, 1))
accuracy = tf.reduce_mean(tf.cast(correct_prediction, tf.float32))
def test(sess):
X = cifar.test.images.reshape(10, 1000, 32, 32, 3)
Y = cifar.test.labels.reshape(10, 1000, 10)
acc = np.mean([sess.run(accuracy, feed_dict={x: X[i], y_: Y[i],
keep_prob: 1.0})
for i in range(10)])
print "Accuracy: {:.4}%".format(acc * 100)
with tf.Session() as sess:
for i in range(STEPS):
batch = cifar.train.next_batch(BATCH_SIZE)
sess.run(train_step, feed_dict={x: batch[0], y_: batch[1],
keep_prob: 0.5})
This first attempt will achieve approximately 70% accuracy within a few minutes
(using a batch size of 100, and depending naturally on hardware and configurations).
Is this good? As of now, state-of-the-art deep learning methods achieve over 95%
accuracy on this dataset,3 but using much larger models and usually many, many
hours of training.
CIFAR10 | 65
There are a few differences between this and the similar MNIST model presented ear‐
lier. First, the input consists of images of size 32×32×3, the third dimension being the
three color channels:
x = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, shape=[None, 32, 32, 3])
Similarly, after the two pooling operations, we are left this time with 64 feature maps
of size 8×8:
conv2_flat = tf.reshape(conv2_pool, [-1, 8 * 8 * 64])
Finally, as a matter of convenience, we group the test procedure into a separate func‐
tion called test(), and we do not print training accuracy values (which can be added
back in using the same code as in the MNIST model).
Once we have a model with some acceptable baseline accuracy (whether derived from
a simple MNIST model or from a state-of-the-art model for some other dataset), a
common practice is to try to improve it by means of a sequence of adaptations and
changes, until reaching what is necessary for our purposes.
In this case, leaving all the rest the same, we will add a third convolution layer with
128 feature maps and dropout. We will also reduce the number of units in the fully
connected layer from 1,024 to 512:
x = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, shape=[None, 32, 32, 3])
y_ = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, shape=[None, 10])
keep_prob = tf.placeholder(tf.float32)
conv1 = conv_layer(x, shape=[5, 5, 3, 32])
conv1_pool = max_pool_2x2(conv1)
conv2 = conv_layer(conv1_pool, shape=[5, 5, 32, 64])
conv2_pool = max_pool_2x2(conv2)
conv3 = conv_layer(conv2_pool, shape=[5, 5, 64, 128])
conv3_pool = max_pool_2x2(conv3)
conv3_flat = tf.reshape(conv3_pool, [-1, 4 * 4 * 128])
conv3_drop = tf.nn.dropout(conv3_flat, keep_prob=keep_prob)
full_1 = tf.nn.relu(full_layer(conv3_drop, 512))
full1_drop = tf.nn.dropout(full_1, keep_prob=keep_prob)
y_conv = full_layer(full1_drop, 10)
This model will take slightly longer to run (but still way under an hour, even without
sophisticated hardware) and achieve an accuracy of approximately 75%.
There is still a rather large gap between this and the best known methods. There are
several independently applicable elements that can help close this gap:
66 | Chapter 4: Convolutional Neural Networks
Model size
Most successful methods for this and similar datasets use much deeper networks
with many more adjustable parameters.
Additional types of layers and methods
Additional types of popular layers are often used together with the layers presen‐
ted here, such as local response normalization.
Optimization tricks
More about this later!
Domain knowledge
Pre-processing utilizing domain knowledge often goes a long way. In this case
that would be good old-fashioned image processing.
Data augmentation
Adding training data based on the existing set can help. For instance, if an image
of a dog is flipped horizontally, then it is clearly still an image of a dog (but what
about a vertical flip?). Small shifts and rotations are also commonly used.
Reusing successful methods and architectures
As in most engineering fields, starting from a time-proven method and adapting
it to your needs is often the way to go. In the field of deep learning this is often
done by fine-tuning pretrained models.
The final model we will present in this chapter is a smaller version of the type of
model that actually produces great results for this dataset. This model is still compact
and fast, and achieves approximately 83% accuracy after ~150 epocs:
C1, C2, C3 = 30, 50, 80
F1 = 500
conv1_1 = conv_layer(x, shape=[3, 3, 3, C1])
conv1_2 = conv_layer(conv1_1, shape=[3, 3, C1, C1])
conv1_3 = conv_layer(conv1_2, shape=[3, 3, C1, C1])
conv1_pool = max_pool_2x2(conv1_3)
conv1_drop = tf.nn.dropout(conv1_pool, keep_prob=keep_prob)
conv2_1 = conv_layer(conv1_drop, shape=[3, 3, C1, C2])
conv2_2 = conv_layer(conv2_1, shape=[3, 3, C2, C2])
conv2_3 = conv_layer(conv2_2, shape=[3, 3, C2, C2])
conv2_pool = max_pool_2x2(conv2_3)
conv2_drop = tf.nn.dropout(conv2_pool, keep_prob=keep_prob)
conv3_1 = conv_layer(conv2_drop, shape=[3, 3, C2, C3])
conv3_2 = conv_layer(conv3_1, shape=[3, 3, C3, C3])
conv3_3 = conv_layer(conv3_2, shape=[3, 3, C3, C3])
conv3_pool = tf.nn.max_pool(conv3_3, ksize=[1, 8, 8, 1], strides=[1, 8, 8, 1],
conv3_flat = tf.reshape(conv3_pool, [-1, C3])
CIFAR10 | 67
conv3_drop = tf.nn.dropout(conv3_flat, keep_prob=keep_prob)
full1 = tf.nn.relu(full_layer(conv3_flat, F1))
full1_drop = tf.nn.dropout(full1, keep_prob=keep_prob)
y_conv = full_layer(full1_drop, 10)
This model consists of three blocks of convolutional layers, followed by the fully con‐
nected and output layers we have already seen a few times before. Each block of con‐
volutional layers contains three consecutive convolutional layers, followed by a single
pooling and dropout.
The constants C1, C2, and C3 control the number of feature maps in each layer of each
of the convolutional blocks, and the constant F1 controls the number of units in the
fully connected layer.
After the third block of convolutional layers, we use an 8×8 max pool layer:
conv3_pool = tf.nn.max_pool(conv3_3, ksize=[1, 8, 8, 1], strides=[1, 8, 8, 1],
Since at this point the feature maps are of size 8×8 (following the first two poolings
that each reduced the 32×32 pictures by half on each axis), this globally pools each of
the feature maps and keeps only the maximal value. The number of feature maps at
the third block was set to 80, so at this point (following the max pooling) the repre‐
sentation is reduced to only 80 numbers. This keeps the overall size of the model
small, as the number of parameters in the transition to the fully connected layer is
kept down to 80×500.
In this chapter we introduced convolutional neural networks and the various build‐
ing blocks they are typically made of. Once you are able to get small models working
properly, try running larger and deeper ones, following the same principles. While
you can always have a peek in the latest literature and see what works, a lot can be
learned from trial and error and figuring some of it out for yourself. In the next chap‐
ters, we will see how to work with text and sequence data and how to use TensorFlow
abstractions to build CNN models with ease.
68 | Chapter 4: Convolutional Neural Networks
Text I: Working with Text and Sequences,
and TensorBoard Visualization
In this chapter we show how to work with sequences in TensorFlow, and in particular
text. We begin by introducing recurrent neural networks (RNNs), a powerful class of
deep learning algorithms particularly useful and popular in natural language process‐
ing (NLP). We show how to implement RNN models from scratch, introduce some
important TensorFlow capabilities, and visualize the model with the interactive Ten‐
sorBoard. We then explore how to use an RNN in a supervised text classification
problem with word-embedding training. Finally, we show how to build a more
advanced RNN model with long short-term memory (LSTM) networks and how to
handle sequences of variable length.
The Importance of Sequence Data
We saw in the previous chapter that using the spatial structure of images can lead to
advanced models with excellent results. As discussed in that chapter, exploiting struc‐
ture is the key to success. As we will see shortly, an immensely important and useful
type of structure is the sequential structure. Thinking in terms of data science, this
fundamental structure appears in many datasets, across all domains. In computer
vision, video is a sequence of visual content evolving over time. In speech we have
audio signals, in genomics gene sequences; we have longitudinal medical records in
healthcare, financial data in the stock market, and so on (see Figure 5-1).
Figure 5-1. e ubiquity of sequence data.
A particularly important type of data with strong sequential structure is natural lan‐
guage—text data. Deep learning methods that exploit the sequential structure inher‐
ent in texts—characters, words, sentences, paragraphs, documents—are at the
forefront of natural language understanding (NLU) systems, often leaving more tra‐
ditional methods in the dust. There are a great many types of NLU tasks that are of
interest to solve, ranging from document classification to building powerful language
models, from answering questions automatically to generating human-level conversa‐
tion agents. These tasks are fiendishly difficult, garnering the efforts and attention of
the entire AI community in both academia and industry.
In this chapter, we focus on the basic building blocks and tasks, and show how to
work with sequences—primarily of text—in TensorFlow. We take a detailed deep dive
into the core elements of sequence models in TensorFlow, implementing some of
them from scratch, to gain a thorough understanding. In the next chapter we show
more advanced text modeling techniques with TensorFlow, and in Chapter 7 we use
abstraction libraries that offer simpler, high-level ways to implement our models.
We begin with the most important and popular class of deep learning models for
sequences (in particular, text): recurrent neural networks.
Introduction to Recurrent Neural Networks
Recurrent neural networks are a powerful and widely used class of neural network
architectures for modeling sequence data. The basic idea behind RNN models is that
each new element in the sequence contributes some new information, which updates
the current state of the model.
70 | Chapter 5: Text I: Working with Text and Sequences, and TensorBoard Visualization
In the previous chapter, which explored computer vision with CNN models, we dis‐
cussed how those architectures are inspired by the current scientific perceptions of
the way the human brain processes visual information. These scientific perceptions
are often rather close to our commonplace intuition from our day-to-day lives about
how we process sequential information.
When we receive new information, clearly our “history” and “memory” are not wiped
out, but instead “updated.” When we read a sentence in some text, with each new
word, our current state of information is updated, and it is dependent not only on the
new observed word but on the words that preceded it.
A fundamental mathematical construct in statistics and probability, which is often
used as a building block for modeling sequential patterns via machine learning is the
Markov chain model. Figuratively speaking, we can view our data sequences as
chains,” with each node in the chain dependent in some way on the previous node,
so that “history” is not erased but carried on.
RNN models are also based on this notion of chain structure, and vary in how exactly
they maintain and update information. As their name implies, recurrent neural nets
apply some form of “loop.” As seen in Figure 5-2, at some point in time t, the network
observes an input xt (a word in a sentence) and updates its “state vector” to ht from
the previous vector ht-1. When we process new input (the next word), it will be done
in some manner that is dependent on ht and thus on the history of the sequence (the
previous words we’ve seen affect our understanding of the current word). As seen in
the illustration, this recurrent structure can simply be viewed as one long unrolled
chain, with each node in the chain performing the same kind of processing “step
based on the “message” it obtains from the output of the previous node. This, of
course, is very related to the Markov chain models discussed previously and their
hidden Markov model (HMM) extensions, which are not discussed in this book.
Figure 5-2. Recurrent neural networks updating with new information received over
Introduction to Recurrent Neural Networks | 71
Vanilla RNN Implementation
In this section we implement a basic RNN from scratch, explore its inner workings,
and gain insight into how TensorFlow can work with sequences. We introduce some
powerful, fairly low-level tools that TensorFlow provides for working with sequence
data, which you can use to implement your own systems.
In the next sections, we will show how to use higher-level TensorFlow RNN modules.
We begin with defining our basic model mathematically. This mainly consists of
defining the recurrence structure—the RNN update step.
The update step for our simple vanilla RNN is
ht = tanh(Wxxt + Whht-1 + b)
where Wh, Wx, and b are weight and bias variables we learn, tanh(·) is the hyperbolic
tangent function that has its range in [–1,1] and is strongly connected to the sigmoid
function used in previous chapters, and xt and ht are the input and state vectors as
defined previously. Finally, the hidden state vector is multiplied by another set of
weights, yielding the outputs that appear in Figure 5-2.
MNIST images as sequences
To get a first taste of the power and general applicability of sequence models, in this
section we implement our first RNN to solve the MNIST image classification task
that you are by now familiar with. Later in this chapter we will focus on sequences of
text, and see how neural sequence models can powerfully manipulate them and
extract information to solve NLU tasks.
But, you may ask, what have images got to do with sequences?
As we saw in the previous chapter, the architecture of convolutional neural networks
makes use of the spatial structure of images. While the structure of natural images is
well suited for CNN models, it is revealing to look at the structure of images from
different angles. In a trend in cutting-edge deep learning research, advanced models
attempt to exploit various kinds of sequential structures in images, trying to capture
in some sense the “generative process” that created each image. Intuitively, this all
comes down to the notion that nearby areas in images are somehow related, and try‐
ing to model this structure.
Here, to introduce basic RNNs and how to work with sequences, we take a simple
sequential view of images: we look at each image in our data as a sequence of rows (or
columns). In our MNIST data, this just means that each 28×28-pixel image can be
viewed as a sequence of length 28, each element in the sequence a vector of 28 pixels
(see Figure 5-3). Then, the temporal dependencies in the RNN can be imaged as a
72 | Chapter 5: Text I: Working with Text and Sequences, and TensorBoard Visualization
scanner head, scanning the image from top to bottom (rows) or left to right (col‐
Figure 5-3. An image as a sequence of pixel columns.
We start by loading data, defining some parameters, and creating placeholders for our
import tensorflow as tf
# Import MNIST data
from tensorflow.examples.tutorials.mnist import input_data
mnist = input_data.read_data_sets("/tmp/data/", one_hot=True)
# Define some parameters
element_size = 28
time_steps = 28
num_classes = 10
batch_size = 128
hidden_layer_size = 128
# Where to save TensorBoard model summaries
LOG_DIR = "logs/RNN_with_summaries"
# Create placeholders for inputs, labels
_inputs = tf.placeholder(tf.float32,shape=[None, time_steps,
y = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, shape=[None, num_classes],
element_size is the dimension of each vector in our sequence—in our case, a row/
column of 28 pixels. time_steps is the number of such elements in a sequence.
Introduction to Recurrent Neural Networks | 73
As we saw in previous chapters, when we load data with the built-in MNIST data
loader, it comes in unrolled form—a vector of 784 pixels. When we load batches of
data during training (we’ll get to that later in this section), we simply reshape each
unrolled vector to [batch_size, time_steps, element_size]:
batch_x, batch_y = mnist.train.next_batch(batch_size)
# Reshape data to get 28 sequences of 28 pixels
batch_x = batch_x.reshape((batch_size, time_steps, element_size))
We set hidden_layer_size (arbitrarily to 128, controlling the size of the hidden RNN
state vector discussed earlier.
LOG_DIR is the directory to which we save model summaries for TensorBoard visuali‐
zation. You will learn what this means as we go.
TensorBoard visualizations
In this chapter, we will also briefly introduce TensorBoard visuali‐
zations. TensorBoard allows you to monitor and explore the model
structure, weights, and training process, and requires some very
simple additions to the code. More details are provided throughout
this chapter and further along in the book.
Finally, our input and label placeholders are created with the suitable dimensions.
The RNN step
Lets implement the mathematical model for the RNN step.
We first create a function used for logging summaries, which we will use later in Ten‐
sorBoard to visualize our model and training process (it is not important to under‐
stand its technicalities at this stage):
# This helper function, taken from the official TensorFlow documentation,
# simply adds some ops that take care of logging summaries
def variable_summaries(var):
with tf.name_scope('summaries'):
mean = tf.reduce_mean(var)
tf.summary.scalar('mean', mean)
with tf.name_scope('stddev'):
stddev = tf.sqrt(tf.reduce_mean(tf.square(var - mean)))
tf.summary.scalar('stddev', stddev)
tf.summary.scalar('max', tf.reduce_max(var))
tf.summary.scalar('min', tf.reduce_min(var))
tf.summary.histogram('histogram', var)
Next, we create the weight and bias variables used in the RNN step:
# Weights and bias for input and hidden layer
with tf.name_scope('rnn_weights'):
74 | Chapter 5: Text I: Working with Text and Sequences, and TensorBoard Visualization
with tf.name_scope("W_x"):
Wx = tf.Variable(tf.zeros([element_size, hidden_layer_size]))
with tf.name_scope("W_h"):
Wh = tf.Variable(tf.zeros([hidden_layer_size, hidden_layer_size]))
with tf.name_scope("Bias"):
b_rnn = tf.Variable(tf.zeros([hidden_layer_size]))
Applying the RNN step with tf.scan()
We now create a function that implements the vanilla RNN step we saw in the previ‐
ous section using the variables we created. It should by now be straightforward to
understand the TensorFlow code used here:
def rnn_step(previous_hidden_state,x):
current_hidden_state = tf.tanh(
tf.matmul(previous_hidden_state, Wh) +
tf.matmul(x, Wx) + b_rnn)
return current_hidden_state
Next, we apply this function across all 28 time steps:
# Processing inputs to work with scan function
# Current input shape: (batch_size, time_steps, element_size)
processed_input = tf.transpose(_inputs, perm=[1, 0, 2])
# Current input shape now: (time_steps, batch_size, element_size)
initial_hidden = tf.zeros([batch_size,hidden_layer_size])
# Getting all state vectors across time
all_hidden_states = tf.scan(rnn_step,
In this small code block, there are some important elements to understand. First, we
reshape the inputs from [batch_size, time_steps, element_size] to
[time_steps, batch_size, element_size]. The perm argument to tf.transpose()
tells TensorFlow which axes we want to switch around. Now that the first axis in our
input Tensor represents the time axis, we can iterate across all time steps by using the
built-in tf.scan() function, which repeatedly applies a callable (function) to a
sequence of elements in order, as explained in the following note.
Introduction to Recurrent Neural Networks | 75
This important function was added to TensorFlow to allow us to
introduce loops into the computation graph, instead of just
unrolling” the loops explicitly by adding more and more replica‐
tions of the same operations. More technically, it is a higher-order
function very similar to the reduce operator, but it returns all inter‐
mediate accumulator values over time. There are several advan‐
tages to this approach, chief among them the ability to have a
dynamic number of iterations rather than fixed, computational
speedups and optimizations for graph construction.
To demonstrate the use of this function, consider the following simple example
(which is separate from the overall RNN code in this section):
import numpy as np
import tensorflow as tf
elems = np.array(["T","e","n","s","o","r", " ", "F","l","o","w"])
scan_sum = tf.scan(lambda a, x: a + x, elems)
Lets see what we get:
array([b'T', b'Te', b'Ten', b'Tens', b'Tenso', b'Tensor', b'Tensor ',
b'Tensor F', b'Tensor Fl', b'Tensor Flo', b'Tensor Flow'],
In this case, we use tf.scan() to sequentially concatenate characters to a string, in a
manner analogous to the arithmetic cumulative sum.
Sequential outputs
As we saw earlier, in an RNN we get a state vector for each time step, multiply it by
some weights, and get an output vector—our new representation of the data. Lets
implement this:
# Weights for output layers
with tf.name_scope('linear_layer_weights') as scope:
with tf.name_scope("W_linear"):
Wl = tf.Variable(tf.truncated_normal([hidden_layer_size,
with tf.name_scope("Bias_linear"):
bl = tf.Variable(tf.truncated_normal([num_classes],
76 | Chapter 5: Text I: Working with Text and Sequences, and TensorBoard Visualization
# Apply linear layer to state vector
def get_linear_layer(hidden_state):
return tf.matmul(hidden_state, Wl) + bl
with tf.name_scope('linear_layer_weights') as scope:
# Iterate across time, apply linear layer to all RNN outputs
all_outputs = tf.map_fn(get_linear_layer, all_hidden_states)
# Get last output
output = all_outputs[-1]
tf.summary.histogram('outputs', output)
Our input to the RNN is sequential, and so is our output. In this sequence classifica‐
tion example, we take the last state vector and pass it through a fully connected linear
layer to extract an output vector (which will later be passed through a softmax activa‐
tion function to generate predictions). This is common practice in basic sequence
classification, where we assume that the last state vector has “accumulated” informa‐
tion representing the entire sequence.
To implement this, we first define the linear layer’s weights and bias term variables,
and create a factory function for this layer. Then we apply this layer to all outputs
with tf.map_fn(), which is pretty much the same as the typical map function that
applies functions to sequences/iterables in an element-wise manner, in this case on
each element in our sequence.
Finally, we extract the last output for each instance in the batch, with negative index‐
ing (similarly to ordinary Python). We will see some more ways to do this later and
investigate outputs and states in some more depth.
RNN classication
Were now ready to train a classifier, much in the same way we did in the previous
chapters. We define the ops for loss function computation, optimization, and predic‐
tion, add some more summaries for TensorBoard, and merge all these summaries
into one operation:
with tf.name_scope('cross_entropy'):
cross_entropy = tf.reduce_mean(
tf.nn.softmax_cross_entropy_with_logits(logits=output, labels=y))
tf.summary.scalar('cross_entropy', cross_entropy)
with tf.name_scope('train'):
# Using RMSPropOptimizer
train_step = tf.train.RMSPropOptimizer(0.001, 0.9)\
with tf.name_scope('accuracy'):
correct_prediction = tf.equal(
tf.argmax(y,1), tf.argmax(output,1))
Introduction to Recurrent Neural Networks | 77
accuracy = (tf.reduce_mean(
tf.cast(correct_prediction, tf.float32)))*100
tf.summary.scalar('accuracy', accuracy)
# Merge all the summaries
merged = tf.summary.merge_all()
By now you should be familiar with most of the components used for defining the
loss function and optimization. Here, we used the RMSPropOptimizer, implementing
a well-known and strong gradient descent algorithm, with some standard hyperpara‐
meters. Of course, we could have used any other optimizer (and do so throughout
this book!).
We create a small test set with unseen MNIST images, and add some more technical
ops and commands for logging summaries that we will use in TensorBoard.
Lets run the model and check out the results:
# Get a small test set
test_data = mnist.test.images[:batch_size].reshape((-1, time_steps,
test_label = mnist.test.labels[:batch_size]
with tf.Session() as sess:
# Write summaries to LOG_DIR -- used by TensorBoard
train_writer = tf.summary.FileWriter(LOG_DIR + '/train',
test_writer = tf.summary.FileWriter(LOG_DIR + '/test',
for i in range(10000):
batch_x, batch_y = mnist.train.next_batch(batch_size)
# Reshape data to get 28 sequences of 28 pixels
batch_x = batch_x.reshape((batch_size, time_steps,
summary,_ = sess.run([merged,train_step],
feed_dict={_inputs:batch_x, y:batch_y})
# Add to summaries
train_writer.add_summary(summary, i)
if i % 1000 == 0:
acc,loss, = sess.run([accuracy,cross_entropy],
feed_dict={_inputs: batch_x,
y: batch_y})
print ("Iter " + str(i) + ", Minibatch Loss= " + \
"{:.6f}".format(loss) + ", Training Accuracy= " + \
if i % 10:
# Calculate accuracy for 128 MNIST test images and
78 | Chapter 5: Text I: Working with Text and Sequences, and TensorBoard Visualization
# add to summaries
summary, acc = sess.run([merged, accuracy],
feed_dict={_inputs: test_data,
y: test_label})
test_writer.add_summary(summary, i)
test_acc = sess.run(accuracy, feed_dict={_inputs: test_data,
y: test_label})
print ("Test Accuracy:", test_acc)
Finally, we print some training and testing accuracy results:
Iter 0, Minibatch Loss= 2.303386, Training Accuracy= 7.03125
Iter 1000, Minibatch Loss= 1.238117, Training Accuracy= 52.34375
Iter 2000, Minibatch Loss= 0.614925, Training Accuracy= 85.15625
Iter 3000, Minibatch Loss= 0.439684, Training Accuracy= 82.81250
Iter 4000, Minibatch Loss= 0.077756, Training Accuracy= 98.43750
Iter 5000, Minibatch Loss= 0.220726, Training Accuracy= 89.84375
Iter 6000, Minibatch Loss= 0.015013, Training Accuracy= 100.00000
Iter 7000, Minibatch Loss= 0.017689, Training Accuracy= 100.00000
Iter 8000, Minibatch Loss= 0.065443, Training Accuracy= 99.21875
Iter 9000, Minibatch Loss= 0.071438, Training Accuracy= 98.43750
Testing Accuracy: 97.6563
To summarize this section, we started off with the raw MNIST pixels and regarded
them as sequential data—each column (or row) of 28 pixels as a time step. We then
applied the vanilla RNN to extract outputs corresponding to each time-step and used
the last output to perform classification of the entire sequence (image).
Visualizing the model with TensorBoard
TensorBoard is an interactive browser-based tool that allows us to visualize the learn‐
ing process, as well as explore our trained model.
To run TensorBoard, go to the command terminal and tell TensorBoard where the
relevant summaries you logged are:
tensorboard --logdir=LOG_DIR
Here, LOG_DIR should be replaced with your log directory. If you are on Windows and
this is not working, make sure you are running the terminal from the same drive
where the log data is, and add a name to the log directory as follows in order to
bypass a bug in the way TensorBoard parses the path:
tensorboard --logdir=rnn_demo:LOG_DIR
TensorBoard allows us to assign names to individual log directories by putting a
colon between the name and the path, which may be useful when working with mul‐
tiple log directories. In such a case, we pass a comma-separated list of log directories
as follows:
Introduction to Recurrent Neural Networks | 79
tensorboard --logdir=rnn_demo1:LOG_DIR1, rnn_demo2:LOG_DIR2
In our example (with one log directory), once you have run the tensorboard com‐
mand, you should get something like the following, telling you where to navigate in
your browser:
Starting TensorBoard b'39' on port 6006
(You can navigate to
If the address does not work, go to localhost:6006, which should always work.
TensorBoard recursively walks the directory tree rooted at LOG_DIR looking for sub‐
directories that contain tfevents log data. If you run this example multiple times,
make sure to either delete the LOG_DIR folder you created after each run, or write the
logs to separate subdirectories within LOG_DIR, such as LOG_DIR/run1/train, LOG_DIR/
run2/train, and so forth, to avoid issues with overwriting log files, which may lead to
some “funky” plots.
Lets take a look at some of the visualizations we can get. In the next section, we will
explore interactive visualization of high-dimensional data with TensorBoard—for
now, we focus on plotting training process summaries and trained weights.
First, in your browser, go to the Scalars tab. Here TensorBoard shows us summaries
of all scalars, including not only training and testing accuracy, which are usually most
interesting, but also some summary statistics we logged about variables (see
Figure 5-4). Hovering over the plots, we can see some numerical figures.
Figure 5-4. TensorBoard scalar summaries.
In the Graphs tab we can get an interactive visualization of our computation graph,
from a high-level view down to the basic ops, by zooming in (see Figure 5-5).
80 | Chapter 5: Text I: Working with Text and Sequences, and TensorBoard Visualization
Figure 5-5. Zooming in on the computation graph.
Finally, in the Histograms tab we see histograms of our weights across the training
process (see Figure 5-6). Of course, we had to explicitly add these histograms to our
logging in order to view them, with tf.summary.histogram().
Introduction to Recurrent Neural Networks | 81
Figure 5-6. Histograms of weights throughout the learning process.
TensorFlow Built-in RNN Functions
The preceding example taught us some of the fundamental and powerful ways we can
work with sequences, by implementing our graph pretty much from scratch. In prac‐
tice, it is of course a good idea to use built-in higher-level modules and functions.
This not only makes the code shorter and easier to write, but exploits many low-level
optimizations afforded by TensorFlow implementations.
In this section we first present a new, shorter version of the code in its entirety. Since
most of the overall details have not changed, we focus on the main new elements,
tf.contrib.rnn.BasicRNNCell and tf.nn.dynamic_rnn():
import tensorflow as tf
from tensorflow.examples.tutorials.mnist import input_data
mnist = input_data.read_data_sets("/tmp/data/", one_hot=True)
element_size = 28;time_steps = 28;num_classes = 10
batch_size = 128;hidden_layer_size = 128
_inputs = tf.placeholder(tf.float32,shape=[None, time_steps,
y = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, shape=[None, num_classes],name='inputs')
# TensorFlow built-in functions
rnn_cell = tf.contrib.rnn.BasicRNNCell(hidden_layer_size)
outputs, _ = tf.nn.dynamic_rnn(rnn_cell, _inputs, dtype=tf.float32)
Wl = tf.Variable(tf.truncated_normal([hidden_layer_size, num_classes],
bl = tf.Variable(tf.truncated_normal([num_classes],mean=0,stddev=.01))
def get_linear_layer(vector):
82 | Chapter 5: Text I: Working with Text and Sequences, and TensorBoard Visualization
return tf.matmul(vector, Wl) + bl
last_rnn_output = outputs[:,-1,:]
final_output = get_linear_layer(last_rnn_output)
softmax = tf.nn.softmax_cross_entropy_with_logits(logits=final_output,
cross_entropy = tf.reduce_mean(softmax)
train_step = tf.train.RMSPropOptimizer(0.001, 0.9).minimize(cross_entropy)
correct_prediction = tf.equal(tf.argmax(y,1), tf.argmax(final_output,1))
accuracy = (tf.reduce_mean(tf.cast(correct_prediction, tf.float32)))*100
test_data = mnist.test.images[:batch_size].reshape((-1,
time_steps, element_size))
test_label = mnist.test.labels[:batch_size]
for i in range(3001):
batch_x, batch_y = mnist.train.next_batch(batch_size)
batch_x = batch_x.reshape((batch_size, time_steps, element_size))
if i % 1000 == 0:
acc = sess.run(accuracy, feed_dict={_inputs: batch_x,
y: batch_y})
loss = sess.run(cross_entropy,feed_dict={_inputs:batch_x,
print ("Iter " + str(i) + ", Minibatch Loss= " + \
"{:.6f}".format(loss) + ", Training Accuracy= " + \
print ("Testing Accuracy:",
sess.run(accuracy, feed_dict={_inputs: test_data, y: test_label}))
tf.contrib.rnn.BasicRNNCell and tf.nn.dynamic_rnn()
TensorFlow’s RNN cells are abstractions that represent the basic operations each
recurrent “cell” carries out (see Figure 5-2 at the start of this chapter for an illustra‐
tion), and its associated state. They are, in general terms, a “replacement” of the
rnn_step() function and the associated variables it required. Of course, there are
many variants and types of cells, each with many methods and properties. We will see
some more advanced cells toward the end of this chapter and later in the book.
Introduction to Recurrent Neural Networks | 83
Once we have created the rnn_cell, we feed it into tf.nn.dynamic_rnn(). This func‐
tion replaces tf.scan() in our vanilla implementation and creates an RNN specified
by rnn_cell.
As of this writing, in early 2017, TensorFlow includes a static and a dynamic function
for creating an RNN. What does this mean? The static version creates an unrolled
graph (as in Figure 5-2) of fixed length. The dynamic version uses a tf.While loop to
dynamically construct the graph at execution time, leading to faster graph creation,
which can be significant. This dynamic construction can also be very useful in other
ways, some of which we will touch on when we discuss variable-length sequences
toward the end of this chapter.
Note that contrib refers to the fact that code in this library is contributed and still
requires testing. We discuss the contrib library in much more detail in Chapter 7.
BasicRNNCell was moved to contrib in TensorFlow 1.0 as part of ongoing develop‐
ment. In version 1.2, many of the RNN functions and classes were moved back to the
core namespace with aliases kept in contrib for backward compatibiliy, meaning that
the preceding code works for all versions 1.X as of this writing.
RNN for Text Sequences
We began this chapter by learning how to implement RNN models in TensorFlow.
For ease of exposition, we showed how to implement and use an RNN for a sequence
made of pixels in MNIST images. We next show how to use these sequence models
on text sequences.
Text data has some properties distinctly different from image data, which we will dis‐
cuss here and later in this book. These properties can make it somewhat difficult to
handle text data at first, and text data always requires at least some basic pre-
processing steps for us to be able to work with it. To introduce working with text in
TensorFlow, we will thus focus on the core components and create a minimal, con‐
trived text dataset that will let us get straight to the action. In Chapter 7, we will apply
RNN models to movie review sentiment classification.
Lets get started, presenting our example data and discussing some key properties of
text datasets as we go.
Text Sequences
In the MNIST RNN example we saw earlier, each sequence was of fixed size—the
width (or height) of an image. Each element in the sequence was a dense vector of 28
pixels. In NLP tasks and datasets, we have a different kind of “picture.
Our sequences could be of words forming a sentence, of sentences forming a para‐
graph, or even of characters forming words or paragraphs forming whole documents.
84 | Chapter 5: Text I: Working with Text and Sequences, and TensorBoard Visualization
Consider the following sentence: “Our company provides smart agriculture solutions
for farms, with advanced AI, deep-learning.” Say we obtain this sentence from an
online news blog, and wish to process it as part of our machine learning system.
Each of the words in this sentence would be represented with an ID—an integer,
commonly referred to as a token ID in NLP. So, the word “agriculture” could, for
instance, be mapped to the integer 3452, the word “farm” to 12, “AI” to 150, and
deep-learning” to 0. This representation in terms of integer identifiers is very differ‐
ent from the vector of pixels in image data, in multiple ways. We will elaborate on this
important point shortly when we discuss word embeddings, and in Chapter 6.
To make things more concrete, let’s start by creating our simplified text data.
Our simulated data consists of two classes of very short “sentences,” one composed of
odd digits and the other of even digits (with numbers written in English). We gener‐
ate sentences built of words representing even and odd numbers. Our goal is to learn
to classify each sentence as either odd or even in a supervised text-classification task.
Of course, we do not really need any machine learning for this simple task—we use
this contrived example only for illustrative purposes.
First, we define some constants, which will be explained as we go:
import numpy as np
import tensorflow as tf
batch_size = 128;embedding_dimension = 64;num_classes = 2
hidden_layer_size = 32;times_steps = 6;element_size = 1
Next, we create sentences. We sample random digits and map them to the corre‐
sponding “words” (e.g., 1 is mapped to “One,” 7 to “Seven,” etc.).
Text sequences typically have variable lengths, which is of course the case for all real
natural language data (such as in the sentences appearing on this page).
To make our simulated sentences have different lengths, we sample for each sentence
a random length between 3 and 6 with np.random.choice(range(3, 7))—the lower
bound is inclusive, and the upper bound is exclusive.
Now, to put all our input sentences in one tensor (per batch of data instances), we
need them to somehow be of the same size—so we pad sentences with a length
shorter than 6 with zeros (or PAD symbols) to make all sentences equally sized (artifi‐
cially). This pre-processing step is known as zero-padding. The following code
accomplishes all of this:
RNN for Text Sequences | 85
digit_to_word_map = {1:"One",2:"Two", 3:"Three", 4:"Four", 5:"Five",
even_sentences = []
odd_sentences = []
seqlens = []
for i in range(10000):
rand_seq_len = np.random.choice(range(3,7))
rand_odd_ints = np.random.choice(range(1,10,2),
rand_even_ints = np.random.choice(range(2,10,2),
# Padding
if rand_seq_len<6:
rand_odd_ints = np.append(rand_odd_ints,
rand_even_ints = np.append(rand_even_ints,
even_sentences.append(" ".join([digit_to_word_map[r] for
r in rand_odd_ints]))
odd_sentences.append(" ".join([digit_to_word_map[r] for
r in rand_even_ints]))
data = even_sentences+odd_sentences
# Same seq lengths for even, odd sentences
Lets take a look at our sentences, each padded to length 6:
['Four Four Two Four Two PAD',
'Eight Six Four PAD PAD PAD',
'Eight Two Six Two PAD PAD',
'Eight Four Four Eight PAD PAD',
'Eight Eight Four PAD PAD PAD',
'Two Two Eight Six Eight Four']
['One Seven Nine Three One PAD',
'Three Nine One PAD PAD PAD',
'Seven Five Three Three PAD PAD',
'Five Five Three One PAD PAD',
'Three Three Five PAD PAD PAD',
'Nine Three Nine Five Five Three']
86 | Chapter 5: Text I: Working with Text and Sequences, and TensorBoard Visualization
Notice that we add the PAD word (token) to our data and digit_to_word_map dictio‐
nary, and separately store even and odd sentences and their original lengths (before
Lets take a look at the original sequence lengths for the sentences we printed:
[5, 3, 4, 4, 3, 6]
Why keep the original sentence lengths? By zero-padding, we solved one technical
problem but created another: if we naively pass these padded sentences through our
RNN model as they are, it will process useless PAD symbols. This would both harm
model correctness by processing “noise” and increase computation time. We resolve
this issue by first storing the original lengths in the seqlens array and then telling
TensorFlow’s tf.nn.dynamic_rnn() where each sentence ends.
In this chapter, our data is simulated—generated by us. In real applications, we would
start off by getting a collection of documents (e.g., one-sentence tweets) and then
mapping each word to an integer ID.
So, we now map words to indices—word identiers—by simply creating a dictionary
with words as keys and indices as values. We also create the inverse map. Note that
there is no correspondence between the word IDs and the digits each word represents
—the IDs carry no semantic meaning, just as in any NLP application with real data:
# Map from words to indices
word2index_map ={}
for sent in data:
for word in sent.lower().split():
if word not in word2index_map:
word2index_map[word] = index
# Inverse map
index2word_map = {index: word for word, index in word2index_map.items()}
vocabulary_size = len(index2word_map)
This is a supervised classification task—we need an array of labels in the one-hot for‐
mat, train and test sets, a function to generate batches of instances, and placeholders,
as usual.
RNN for Text Sequences | 87
First, we create the labels and split the data into train and test sets:
labels = [1]*10000 + [0]*10000
for i in range(len(labels)):
label = labels[i]
one_hot_encoding = [0]*2
one_hot_encoding[label] = 1
labels[i] = one_hot_encoding
data_indices = list(range(len(data)))
data = np.array(data)[data_indices]
labels = np.array(labels)[data_indices]
seqlens = np.array(seqlens)[data_indices]
train_x = data[:10000]
train_y = labels[:10000]
train_seqlens = seqlens[:10000]
test_x = data[10000:]
test_y = labels[10000:]
test_seqlens = seqlens[10000:]
Next, we create a function that generates batches of sentences. Each sentence in a
batch is simply a list of integer IDs corresponding to words:
def get_sentence_batch(batch_size,data_x,
instance_indices = list(range(len(data_x)))
batch = instance_indices[:batch_size]
x = [[word2index_map[word] for word in data_x[i].lower().split()]
for i in batch]
y = [data_y[i] for i in batch]
seqlens = [data_seqlens[i] for i in batch]
return x,y,seqlens
Finally, we create placeholders for data:
_inputs = tf.placeholder(tf.int32, shape=[batch_size,times_steps])
_labels = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, shape=[batch_size, num_classes])
# seqlens for dynamic calculation
_seqlens = tf.placeholder(tf.int32, shape=[batch_size])
Note that we have created a placeholder for the original sequence lengths. We will see
how to make use of these in our RNN shortly.
Supervised Word Embeddings
Our text data is now encoded as lists of word IDs—each sentence is a sequence of
integers corresponding to words. This type of atomic representation, where each
88 | Chapter 5: Text I: Working with Text and Sequences, and TensorBoard Visualization
word is represented with an ID, is not scalable for training deep learning models with
large vocabularies that occur in real problems. We could end up with millions of such
word IDs, each encoded in one-hot (binary) categorical form, leading to great data
sparsity and computational issues. We will discuss this in more depth in Chapter 6.
A powerful approach to work around this issue is to use word embeddings. The
embedding is, in a nutshell, simply a mapping from high-dimensional one-hot vec‐
tors encoding words to lower-dimensional dense vectors. So, for example, if our
vocabulary has size 100,000, each word in one-hot representation would be of the
same size. The corresponding word vector—or word embedding—would be of size
300, say. The high-dimensional one-hot vectors are thus “embedded” into a continu‐
ous vector space with a much lower dimensionality.
In Chapter 6 we dive deeper into word embeddings, exploring a popular method to
train them in an “unsupervised” manner known as word2vec.
Here, our end goal is to solve a text classification problem, and we will train word
vectors in a supervised framework, tuning the embedded word vectors to solve the
downstream classification task.
It is helpful to think of word embeddings as basic hash tables or lookup tables, map‐
ping words to their dense vector values. These vectors are optimized as part of the
training process. Previously, we gave each word an integer index, and sentences are
then represented as sequences of these indices. Now, to obtain a word’s vector, we use
the built-in tf.nn.embedding_lookup() function, which efficiently retrieves the vec‐
tors for each word in a given sequence of word indices:
with tf.name_scope("embeddings"):
embeddings = tf.Variable(
-1.0, 1.0),name='embedding')
embed = tf.nn.embedding_lookup(embeddings, _inputs)
We will see examples of and visualizations of our vector representations of words
LSTM and Using Sequence Length
In the introductory RNN example with which we began, we implemented and used
the basic vanilla RNN model. In practice, we often use slightly more advanced RNN
models, which differ mainly by how they update their hidden state and propagate
information through time. A very popular recurrent network is the long short-term
memory (LSTM) network. It differs from vanilla RNN by having some special mem‐
ory mechanisms that enable the recurrent cells to better store information for long
periods of time, thus allowing them to capture long-term dependencies better than
plain RNN.
RNN for Text Sequences | 89
There is nothing mysterious about these memory mechanisms; they simply consist of
some more parameters added to each recurrent cell, enabling the RNN to overcome
optimization issues and propagate information. These trainable parameters act as fil‐
ters that select what information is worth “remembering” and passing on, and what is
worth “forgetting.” They are trained in exactly the same way as any other parameter
in a network, with gradient-descent algorithms and backpropagation. We dont go
into the more technical mathematical formulations here, but there are plenty of great
resources out there delving into the details.
We create an LSTM cell with tf.contrib.rnn.BasicLSTMCell() and feed it to
tf.nn.dynamic_rnn(), just as we did at the start of this chapter. We also give
dynamic_rnn() the length of each sequence in a batch of examples, using the _seq
lens placeholder we created earlier. TensorFlow uses this to stop all RNN steps
beyond the last real sequence element. It also returns all output vectors over time (in
the outputs tensor), which are all zero-padded beyond the true end of the sequence.
So, for example, if the length of our original sequence is 5 and we zero-pad it to a
sequence of length 15, the output for all time steps beyond 5 will be zero:
with tf.variable_scope("lstm"):
lstm_cell = tf.contrib.rnn.BasicLSTMCell(hidden_layer_size,
outputs, states = tf.nn.dynamic_rnn(lstm_cell, embed,
sequence_length = _seqlens,
weights = {
'linear_layer': tf.Variable(tf.truncated_normal([hidden_layer_size,
biases = {
# Extract the last relevant output and use in a linear layer
final_output = tf.matmul(states[1],
weights["linear_layer"]) + biases["linear_layer"]
softmax = tf.nn.softmax_cross_entropy_with_logits(logits = final_output,
labels = _labels)
cross_entropy = tf.reduce_mean(softmax)
We take the last valid output vector—in this case conveniently available for us in the
states tensor returned by dynamic_rnn()—and pass it through a linear layer (and
the softmax function), using it as our final prediction. We will explore the concepts of
90 | Chapter 5: Text I: Working with Text and Sequences, and TensorBoard Visualization
last relevant output and zero-padding further in the next section, when we look at
some outputs generated by dynamic_rnn() for our example sentences.
Training Embeddings and the LSTM Classier
We have all the pieces in the puzzle. Lets put them together, and complete an end-to-
end training of both word vectors and a classification model:
train_step = tf.train.RMSPropOptimizer(0.001, 0.9).minimize(cross_entropy)
correct_prediction = tf.equal(tf.argmax(_labels,1),
accuracy = (tf.reduce_mean(tf.cast(correct_prediction,
with tf.Session() as sess:
for step in range(1000):
x_batch, y_batch,seqlen_batch = get_sentence_batch(batch_size,
sess.run(train_step,feed_dict={_inputs:x_batch, _labels:y_batch,
if step % 100 == 0:
acc = sess.run(accuracy,feed_dict={_inputs:x_batch,
print("Accuracy at %d: %.5f" % (step, acc))
for test_batch in range(5):
x_test, y_test,seqlen_test = get_sentence_batch(batch_size,
batch_pred,batch_acc = sess.run([tf.argmax(final_output,1),
print("Test batch accuracy %d: %.5f" % (test_batch, batch_acc))
output_example = sess.run([outputs],feed_dict={_inputs:x_test,
states_example = sess.run([states[1]],feed_dict={_inputs:x_test,
As we can see, this is a pretty simple toy text classification problem:
RNN for Text Sequences | 91
Accuracy at 0: 32.81250
Accuracy at 100: 100.00000
Accuracy at 200: 100.00000
Accuracy at 300: 100.00000
Accuracy at 400: 100.00000
Accuracy at 500: 100.00000
Accuracy at 600: 100.00000
Accuracy at 700: 100.00000
Accuracy at 800: 100.00000
Accuracy at 900: 100.00000
Test batch accuracy 0: 100.00000
Test batch accuracy 1: 100.00000
Test batch accuracy 2: 100.00000
Test batch accuracy 3: 100.00000
Test batch accuracy 4: 100.00000
We’ve also computed an example batch of outputs generated by dynamic_rnn(), to
further illustrate the concepts of zero-padding and last relevant outputs discussed in
the previous section.
Lets take a look at one example of these outputs, for a sentence that was zero-padded
(in your random batch of data you may see different output, of course—look for a
sentence whose seqlen was lower than the maximal 6):
(6, 32)
This output has, as expected, six time steps, each a vector of size 32. Lets take a
glimpse at its values (printing only the first few dimensions to avoid clutter):
array([[-0.44493711, -0.51363373, -0.49310589],
[-0.72036862, -0.68590945, -0.73340571],
[-0.83176643, -0.78206956, -0.87831545],
[-0.87982416, -0.82784462, -0.91132098],
[ 0. , 0. , 0. ],
[ 0. , 0. , 0. ]], dtype=float32)
We see that for this sentence, whose original length was 4, the last two time steps have
zero vectors due to padding.
Finally, we look at the states vector returned by dynamic_rnn():
92 | Chapter 5: Text I: Working with Text and Sequences, and TensorBoard Visualization
array([-0.87982416, -0.82784462, -0.91132098], dtype=float32)
We can see that it conveniently stores for us the last relevant output vector—its values
match the last relevant output vector before zero-padding.
At this point, you may be wondering how to access and manipulate the word vectors
and explore the trained representation. We show how to do so, including interactive
embedding visualization, in the next chapter.
Stacking multiple LSTMs
Earlier, we focused on a one-layer LSTM network for ease of exposition. Adding
more layers is straightforward, using the MultiRNNCell() wrapper that combines
multiple RNN cells into one multilayer cell.
Say, for example, we wanted to stack two LSTM layers in the preceding example. We
can do this as follows:
num_LSTM_layers = 2
with tf.variable_scope("lstm"):
lstm_cell = tf.contrib.rnn.BasicLSTMCell(hidden_layer_size,
cell = tf.contrib.rnn.MultiRNNCell(cells=[lstm_cell]*num_LSTM_layers,
outputs, states = tf.nn.dynamic_rnn(cell, embed,
sequence_length = _seqlens,
We first define an LSTM cell as before, and then feed it into the tf.contrib.rnn.Mul
tiRNNCell() wrapper.
Now our network has two layers of LSTM, causing some shape issues when trying to
extract the final state vectors. To get the final state of the second layer, we simply
adapt our indexing a bit:
# Extract the final state and use in a linear layer
final_output = tf.matmul(states[num_LSTM_layers-1][1],
weights["linear_layer"]) + biases["linear_layer"]
In this chapter we introduced sequence models in TensorFlow. We saw how to imple‐
ment a basic RNN model from scratch by using tf.scan() and built-in modules, as
well as more advanced LSTM networks, for both text and image data. Finally, we
trained an end-to-end text classification RNN with word embeddings, and showed
Summary | 93
how to handle sequences of variable length. In the next chapter, we dive deeper into
word embeddings and word2vec. In Chapter 7, we will see some cool abstraction lay‐
ers over TensorFlow, and how they can be used to train advanced text classification
RNN models with considerably less effort.
94 | Chapter 5: Text I: Working with Text and Sequences, and TensorBoard Visualization
Text II: Word Vectors, Advanced RNN, and
Embedding Visualization
In this chapter, we go deeper into important topics discussed in Chapter 5 regarding
working with text sequences. We first show how to train word vectors by using an
unsupervised method known as word2vec, and how to visualize embeddings interac‐
tively with TensorBoard. We then use pretrained word vectors, trained on massive
amounts of public data, in a supervised text-classification task, and also introduce
more-advanced RNN components that are frequently used in state-of-the-art sys‐
Introduction to Word Embeddings
In Chapter 5 we introduced RNN models and working with text sequences in Tensor‐
Flow. As part of the supervised model training, we also trained word vectors—map‐
ping from word IDs to lower-dimensional continuous vectors. The reasoning for this
was to enable a scalable representation that can be fed into an RNN layer. But there
are deeper reasons for the use of word vectors, which we discuss next.
Consider the sentence appearing in Figure 6-1: “Our company provides smart agri‐
culture solutions for farms, with advanced AI, deep-learning.” This sentence may be
taken from, say, a tweet promoting a company. As data scientists or engineers, we
now may wish to process it as part of an advanced machine intelligence system, that
sifts through tweets and automatically detects informative content (e.g., public senti‐
In one of the major traditional natural language processing (NLP) approaches to text
processing, each of the words in this sentence would be represented with N ID—say,
an integer. So, as we posited in the previous chapter, the word “agriculture” might be
mapped to the integer 3452, the word “farm” to 12, “AI” to 150, and “deep-learning”
to 0.
While this representation has led to excellent results in practice in some basic NLP
tasks and is still often used in many cases (such as in bag-of-words text classification),
it has some major inherent problems. First, by using this type of atomic representa‐
tion, we lose all meaning encoded within the word, and crucially, we thus lose infor‐
mation on the semantic proximity between words. In our example, we of course
know that “agriculture” and “farm” are strongly related, and so are “AI” and “deep-
learning,” while deep learning and farms don’t usually have much to do with one
another. This is not reflected by their arbitrary integer IDs.
Another important issue with this way of looking at data stems from the size of typi‐
cal vocabularies, which can easily reach huge numbers. This means that naively, we
could need to keep millions of such word identifiers, leading to great data sparsity
and in turn, making learning harder and more expensive.
With images, such as in the MNIST data we used in the first section of Chapter 5, this
is not quite the case. While images can be high-dimensional, their natural representa‐
tion in terms of pixel values already encodes some semantic meaning, and this repre‐
sentation is dense. In practice, RNN models like the one we saw in Chapter 5 require
dense vector representations to work well.
We would like, therefore, to use dense vector representations of words, which carry
semantic meaning. But how do we obtain them?
In Chapter 5 we trained supervised word vectors to solve a specific task, using labeled
data. But it is often expensive for individuals and organizations to obtain labeled data,
in terms of the resources, time, and effort involved in manually tagging texts or
somehow acquiring enough labeled instances. Obtaining huge amounts of unlabeled
data, however, is often a much less daunting endeavor. We thus would like a way to
use this data to train word representations, in an unsupervised fashion.
There are actually many ways to do unsupervised training of word embeddings,
including both more traditional approaches to NLP that can still work very well and
newer methods, many of which use neural networks. Whether old or new, these all
rely at their core on the distributional hypothesis, which is most easily explained by a
well-known quote by linguist John Firth: “You shall know a word by the company it
keeps.” In other words, words that tend to appear in similar contexts tend to have
similar semantic meanings.
In this book, we focus on powerful word embedding methods based on neural net‐
works. In Chapter 5 we saw how to train them as part of a downstream text-
classification task. We now show how to train word vectors in an unsupervised
manner, and then how to use pretrained vectors that were trained using huge
amounts of text from the web.
96 | Chapter 6: Text II: Word Vectors, Advanced RNN, and Embedding Visualization
Word2vec is a very well-known unsupervised word embedding approach. It is
actually more like a family of algorithms, all based in some way on exploiting the
context in which words appear to learn their representation (in the spirit of the distri‐
butional hypothesis). We focus on the most popular word2vec implementation,
which trains a model that, given an input word, predicts the word’s context by using
something known as skip-grams. This is actually rather simple, as the following exam‐
ple will demonstrate.
Consider, again, our example sentence: “Our company provides smart agriculture sol‐
utions for farms, with advanced AI, deep-learning.” We define (for simplicity) the
context of a word as its immediate neighbors (“the company it keeps”)—i.e., the word
to its left and the word to its right. So, the context of “company” is [our, provides], the
context of “AI” is [advanced, deep-learning], and so on (see Figure 6-1).
Figure 6-1. Generating skip-grams from text.
In the skip-gram word2vec model, we train a model to predict context based on an
input word. All that means in this case is that we generate training instance and label
pairs such as (our, company), (provides, company), (advanced, AI), (deep-learning,
AI), etc.
In addition to these pairs we extract from the data, we also sample “fake” pairs—that
is, for a given input word (such as “AI”), we also sample random noise words as con‐
text (such as “monkeys”), in a process known as negative sampling. We use the true
pairs combined with noise pairs to build our training instances and labels, which we
use to train a binary classifier that learns to distinguish between them. The trainable
parameters in this classifier are the vector representations—word embeddings. We
tune these vectors to yield a classifier able to tell the difference between true contexts
of a word and randomly sampled ones, in a binary classification setting.
TensorFlow enables many ways to implement the word2vec model, with increasing
levels of sophistication and optimization, using multithreading and higher-level
Word2vec | 97
abstractions for optimized and shorter code. We present here a fundamental
approach, which will introduce you to the core ideas and operations.
Lets dive straight into implementing the core ideas in TensorFlow code.
We begin by preparing our data and extracting skip-grams. As in Chapter 5, our data
comprises two classes of very short “sentences,” one composed of odd digits and the
other of even digits (with numbers written in English). We make sentences equally
sized here, for simplicity, but this doesnt really matter for word2vec training. Lets
start by setting some parameters and creating sentences:
import os
import math
import numpy as np
import tensorflow as tf
from tensorflow.contrib.tensorboard.plugins import projector
embedding_dimension = 5
negative_samples =8
LOG_DIR = "logs/word2vec_intro"
digit_to_word_map = {1:"One",2:"Two", 3:"Three", 4:"Four", 5:"Five",
sentences = []
# Create two kinds of sentences - sequences of odd and even digits
for i in range(10000):
rand_odd_ints = np.random.choice(range(1,10,2),3)
sentences.append(" ".join([digit_to_word_map[r] for r in rand_odd_ints]))
rand_even_ints = np.random.choice(range(2,10,2),3)
sentences.append(" ".join([digit_to_word_map[r] for r in rand_even_ints]))
Lets take a look at our sentences:
['Seven One Five',
'Four Four Four',
'Five One Nine',
'Eight Two Eight',
'One Nine Three',
'Two Six Eight',
'Nine Seven Seven',
'Six Eight Six',
'One Five Five',
'Four Six Two']
98 | Chapter 6: Text II: Word Vectors, Advanced RNN, and Embedding Visualization
Next, as in Chapter 5, we map words to indices by creating a dictionary with words as
keys and indices as values, and create the inverse map:
# Map words to indices
word2index_map ={}
for sent in sentences:
for word in sent.lower().split():
if word not in word2index_map:
word2index_map[word] = index
index2word_map = {index: word for word, index in word2index_map.items()}
vocabulary_size = len(index2word_map)
To prepare the data for word2vec, lets create skip-grams:
# Generate skip-gram pairs
skip_gram_pairs = []
for sent in sentences:
tokenized_sent = sent.lower().split()
for i in range(1, len(tokenized_sent)-1) :
word_context_pair = [[word2index_map[tokenized_sent[i-1]],
def get_skipgram_batch(batch_size):
instance_indices = list(range(len(skip_gram_pairs)))
batch = instance_indices[:batch_size]
x = [skip_gram_pairs[i][0] for i in batch]
y = [[skip_gram_pairs[i][1]] for i in batch]
return x,y
Each skip-gram pair is composed of target and context word indices (given by the
word2index_map dictionary, and not in correspondence to the actual digit each word
represents). Lets take a look:
[[1, 0],
[1, 2],
[3, 3],
[3, 3],
[1, 2],
[1, 4],
[6, 5],
[6, 5],
Word2vec | 99
[4, 1],
[4, 7]]
We can generate batches of sequences of word indices, and check out the original sen‐
tences with the inverse dictionary we created earlier:
# Batch example
x_batch,y_batch = get_skipgram_batch(8)
[index2word_map[word] for word in x_batch]
[index2word_map[word[0]] for word in y_batch]
[6, 2, 1, 1, 3, 0, 7, 2]
[[5], [0], [4], [0], [5], [4], [1], [7]]
[index2word_map[word] for word in x_batch]
['two', 'five', 'one', 'one', 'four', 'seven', 'three', 'five']
[index2word_map[word[0]] for word in y_batch]
['eight', 'seven', 'nine', 'seven', 'eight',
'nine', 'one', 'three']
Finally, we create our input and label placeholders:
# Input data, labels
train_inputs = tf.placeholder(tf.int32, shape=[batch_size])
train_labels = tf.placeholder(tf.int32, shape=[batch_size, 1])
Embeddings in TensorFlow
In Chapter 5, we used the built-in tf.nn.embedding_lookup() function as part of
our supervised RNN. The same functionality is used here. Here too, word embed‐
dings can be viewed as lookup tables that map words to vector values, which are opti‐
mized as part of the training process to minimize a loss function. As we shall see in
the next section, unlike in Chapter 5, here we use a loss function accounting for the
unsupervised nature of the task, but the embedding lookup, which efficiently
retrieves the vectors for each word in a given sequence of word indices, remains the
100 | Chapter 6: Text II: Word Vectors, Advanced RNN, and Embedding Visualization
with tf.name_scope("embeddings"):
embeddings = tf.Variable(
tf.random_uniform([vocabulary_size, embedding_dimension],
-1.0, 1.0),name='embedding')
# This is essentially a lookup table
embed = tf.nn.embedding_lookup(embeddings, train_inputs)
The Noise-Contrastive Estimation (NCE) Loss Function
In our introduction to skip-grams, we mentioned we create two types of context–
target pairs of words: real ones that appear in the text, and “fake” noisy pairs that are
generated by inserting random context words. Our goal is to learn to distinguish
between the two, helping us learn a good word representation. We could draw ran‐
dom noisy context pairs ourselves, but luckily TensorFlow comes with a useful loss
function designed especially for our task. tf.nn.nce_loss() automatically draws
negative (“noise”) samples when we evaluate the loss (run it in a session):
# Create variables for the NCE loss
nce_weights = tf.Variable(
tf.truncated_normal([vocabulary_size, embedding_dimension],
stddev=1.0 / math.sqrt(embedding_dimension)))
nce_biases = tf.Variable(tf.zeros([vocabulary_size]))
loss = tf.reduce_mean(
tf.nn.nce_loss(weights = nce_weights, biases = nce_biases, inputs = embed,
labels = train_labels, num_sampled = negative_samples, num_classes =
We don’t go into the mathematical details of this loss function, but it is sufficient to
think of it as a sort of efficient approximation to the ordinary softmax function used
in classification tasks, as introduced in previous chapters. We tune our embedding
vectors to optimize this loss function. For more details about it, see the official Ten‐
sorFlow documentation and references within.
Were now ready to train. In addition to obtaining our word embeddings in Tensor‐
Flow, we next introduce two useful capabilities: adjustment of the optimization learn‐
ing rate, and interactive visualization of embeddings.
Learning Rate Decay
As discussed in previous chapters, gradient-descent optimization adjusts weights by
making small steps in the direction that minimizes our loss function. The learn
ing_rate hyperparameter controls just how aggressive these steps are. During
gradient-descent training of a model, it is common practice to gradually make these
steps smaller and smaller, so that we allow our optimization process to “settle down
as it approaches good points in the parameter space. This small addition to our train‐
Word2vec | 101
ing process can actually often lead to significant boosts in performance, and is a good
practice to keep in mind in general.
tf.train.exponential_decay() applies exponential decay to the learning rate, with
the exact form of decay controlled by a few hyperparameters, as seen in the following
code (for exact details, see the official TensorFlow documentation at http://bit.ly/
2tluxP1). Here, just as an example, we decay every 1,000 steps, and the decayed learn‐
ing rate follows a staircase function—a piecewise constant function that resembles a
staircase, as its name implies:
# Learning rate decay
global_step = tf.Variable(0, trainable=False)
learningRate = tf.train.exponential_decay(learning_rate=0.1,
global_step= global_step,
decay_rate= 0.95,
train_step = tf.train.GradientDescentOptimizer(learningRate).minimize(loss)
Training and Visualizing with TensorBoard
We train our graph within a session as usual, adding some lines of code enabling cool
interactive visualization in TensorBoard, a new tool for visualizing embeddings of
high-dimensional data—typically images or word vectors—introduced for Tensor‐
Flow in late 2016.
First, we create a TSV (tab-separated values) metadata file. This file connects embed‐
ding vectors with associated labels or images we may have for them. In our case, each
embedding vector has a label that is just the word it stands for.
We then point TensorBoard to our embedding variables (in this case, only one), and
link them to the metadata file.
Finally, after completing optimization but before closing the session, we normalize
the word embedding vectors to unit length, a standard post-processing step:
# Merge all summary ops
merged = tf.summary.merge_all()
with tf.Session() as sess:
train_writer = tf.summary.FileWriter(LOG_DIR,
saver = tf.train.Saver()
with open(os.path.join(LOG_DIR,'metadata.tsv'), "w") as metadata:
for k,v in index2word_map.items():
metadata.write('%s\t%d\n' % (v, k))
config = projector.ProjectorConfig()
102 | Chapter 6: Text II: Word Vectors, Advanced RNN, and Embedding Visualization
embedding = config.embeddings.add()
embedding.tensor_name = embeddings.name
# Link embedding to its metadata file
embedding.metadata_path = os.path.join(LOG_DIR,'metadata.tsv')
projector.visualize_embeddings(train_writer, config)
for step in range(1000):
x_batch, y_batch = get_skipgram_batch(batch_size)
summary,_ = sess.run([merged,train_step],
train_writer.add_summary(summary, step)
if step % 100 == 0:
saver.save(sess, os.path.join(LOG_DIR, "w2v_model.ckpt"), step)
loss_value = sess.run(loss,
print("Loss at %d: %.5f" % (step, loss_value))
# Normalize embeddings before using
norm = tf.sqrt(tf.reduce_sum(tf.square(embeddings), 1, keep_dims=True))
normalized_embeddings = embeddings / norm
normalized_embeddings_matrix = sess.run(normalized_embeddings)
Checking Out Our Embeddings
Lets take a quick look at the word vectors we got. We select one word (one) and sort
all the other word vectors by how close they are to it, in descending order:
ref_word = normalized_embeddings_matrix[word2index_map["one"]]
cosine_dists = np.dot(normalized_embeddings_matrix,ref_word)
ff = np.argsort(cosine_dists)[::-1][1:10]
for f in ff:
Now let’s take a look at the word distances from the one vector:
Word2vec | 103
We see that the word vectors representing odd numbers are similar (in terms of the
dot product) to one, while those representing even numbers are not similar to it (and
have a negative dot product with the one vector). We learned embedded vectors that
allow us to distinguish between even and odd numbers—their respective vectors are
far apart, and thus capture the context in which each word (odd or even
digit) appeared.
Now, in TensorBoard, go to the Embeddings tab. This is a three-dimensional interac‐
tive visualization panel, where we can move around the space of our embedded vec‐
tors and explore different “angles,” zoom in, and more (see Figures 6-2 and 6-3). This
enables us to understand our data and interpret the model in a visually comfortable
manner. We can see, for instance, that the odd and even numbers occupy different
areas in feature space.
Figure 6-2. Interactive visualization of word embeddings.
104 | Chapter 6: Text II: Word Vectors, Advanced RNN, and Embedding Visualization
Figure 6-3. We can explore our word vectors from dierent angles (especially useful in
high-dimensional problems with large vocabularies).
Of course, this type of visualization really shines when we have a great number of
embedded vectors, such as in real text classification tasks with larger vocabularies, as
we will see in Chapter 7, for example, or in the Embedding Projector TensorFlow
demo. Here, we just give you a taste of how to interactively explore your data and
deep learning models.
Pretrained Embeddings, Advanced RNN
As we discussed earlier, word embeddings are a powerful component in deep learning
models for text. A popular approach seen in many applications is to first train word
vectors with methods such as word2vec on massive amounts of (unlabeled) text, and
then use these vectors in a downstream task such as supervised document classifica‐
In the previous section, we trained unsupervised word vectors from scratch. This
approach typically requires very large corpora, such as Wikipedia entries or web
pages. In practice, we often use pretrained word embeddings, trained on such huge
corpora and available online, in much the same manner as the pretrained models pre‐
sented in previous chapters.
In this section, we show how to use pretrained word embeddings in TensorFlow in a
simplified text-classification task. To make things more interesting, we also take this
opportunity to introduce some more useful and powerful components that are fre‐
quently used in modern deep learning applications for natural language understand‐
ing: the bidirectional RNN layers and the gated recurrent unit (GRU) cell.
Pretrained Embeddings, Advanced RNN | 105
We will expand and adapt our text-classification example from Chapter 5, focusing
only on the parts that have changed.
Pretrained Word Embeddings
Here, we show how to take word vectors trained based on web data and incorporate
them into a (contrived) text-classification task. The embedding method is known as
GloVe, and while we don’t go into the details here, the overall idea is similar to that of
word2vec—learning representations of words by the context in which they appear.
Information on the method and its authors, and the pretrained vectors, is available on
the projects website.
We download the Common Crawl vectors (840B tokens), and proceed to our exam‐
We first set the path to the downloaded word vectors and some other parameters, as
in Chapter 5:
import zipfile
import numpy as np
import tensorflow as tf
path_to_glove = "path/to/glove/file"
batch_size = 128
embedding_dimension = 64
num_classes = 2
hidden_layer_size = 32
times_steps = 6
We then create the contrived, simple simulated data, also as in Chapter 5 (see details
digit_to_word_map = {1:"One",2:"Two", 3:"Three", 4:"Four", 5:"Five",
even_sentences = []
odd_sentences = []
seqlens = []
for i in range(10000):
rand_seq_len = np.random.choice(range(3,7))
rand_odd_ints = np.random.choice(range(1,10,2),
rand_even_ints = np.random.choice(range(2,10,2),
if rand_seq_len<6:
rand_odd_ints = np.append(rand_odd_ints,
rand_even_ints = np.append(rand_even_ints,
106 | Chapter 6: Text II: Word Vectors, Advanced RNN, and Embedding Visualization
even_sentences.append(" ".join([digit_to_word_map[r] for
r in rand_odd_ints]))
odd_sentences.append(" ".join([digit_to_word_map[r] for
r in rand_even_ints]))
data = even_sentences+odd_sentences
# Same seq lengths for even, odd sentences
labels = [1]*10000 + [0]*10000
for i in range(len(labels)):
label = labels[i]
one_hot_encoding = [0]*2
one_hot_encoding[label] = 1
labels[i] = one_hot_encoding
Next, we create the word index map:
word2index_map ={}
for sent in data:
for word in sent.split():
if word not in word2index_map:
word2index_map[word] = index
index2word_map = {index: word for word, index in word2index_map.items()}
vocabulary_size = len(index2word_map)
Lets refresh our memory of its content—just a map from word to an (arbitrary)
{'Eight': 7,
'Five': 1,
'Four': 6,
'Nine': 3,
'One': 5,
'Seven': 4,
'Six': 9,
'Three': 0,
'Two': 8}
Now, we are ready to get word vectors. There are 2.2 million words in the vocabulary
of the pretrained GloVe embeddings we downloaded, and in our toy example we have
only 9. So, we take the GloVe vectors only for words that appear in our own tiny
Pretrained Embeddings, Advanced RNN | 107
def get_glove(path_to_glove,word2index_map):
embedding_weights = {}
count_all_words = 0
with zipfile.ZipFile(path_to_glove) as z:
with z.open("glove.840B.300d.txt") as f:
for line in f:
vals = line.split()
word = str(vals[0].decode("utf-8"))
if word in word2index_map:
coefs = np.asarray(vals[1:], dtype='float32')
embedding_weights[word] = coefs
if count_all_words==vocabulary_size -1:
return embedding_weights
word2embedding_dict = get_glove(path_to_glove,word2index_map)
We go over the GloVe file line by line, take the word vectors we need, and normalize
them. Once we have extracted the nine words we need, we stop the process and exit
the loop. The output of our function is a dictionary, mapping from each word to its
The next step is to place these vectors in a matrix, which is the required format for
TensorFlow. In this matrix, each row index should correspond to the word index:
embedding_matrix = np.zeros((vocabulary_size ,GLOVE_SIZE))
for word,index in word2index_map.items():
if not word == "PAD_TOKEN":
word_embedding = word2embedding_dict[word]
embedding_matrix[index,:] = word_embedding
Note that for the PAD_TOKEN word, we set the corresponding vector to 0. As we saw in
Chapter 5, we ignore padded tokens in our call to dynamic_rnn() by telling it the
original sequence length.
We now create our training and test data:
data_indices = list(range(len(data)))
data = np.array(data)[data_indices]
labels = np.array(labels)[data_indices]
seqlens = np.array(seqlens)[data_indices]
train_x = data[:10000]
train_y = labels[:10000]
train_seqlens = seqlens[:10000]
test_x = data[10000:]
test_y = labels[10000:]
108 | Chapter 6: Text II: Word Vectors, Advanced RNN, and Embedding Visualization
test_seqlens = seqlens[10000:]
def get_sentence_batch(batch_size,data_x,
instance_indices = list(range(len(data_x)))
batch = instance_indices[:batch_size]
x = [[word2index_map[word] for word in data_x[i].split()]
for i in batch]
y = [data_y[i] for i in batch]
seqlens = [data_seqlens[i] for i in batch]
return x,y,seqlens
And we create our input placeholders:
_inputs = tf.placeholder(tf.int32, shape=[batch_size,times_steps])
embedding_placeholder = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, [vocabulary_size,
_labels = tf.placeholder(tf.float32, shape=[batch_size, num_classes])
_seqlens = tf.placeholder(tf.int32, shape=[batch_size])
Note that we created an embedding_placeholder, to which we feed the word vectors:
embeddings = tf.Variable(tf.constant(0.0, shape=[vocabulary_size,
# If using pretrained embeddings, assign them to the embeddings variable
embedding_init = embeddings.assign(embedding_placeholder)
embed = tf.nn.embedding_lookup(embeddings, _inputs)
embeddings = tf.Variable(
-1.0, 1.0))
embed = tf.nn.embedding_lookup(embeddings, _inputs)
Our embeddings are initialized with the content of embedding_placeholder, using
the assign() function to assign initial values to the embeddings variable. We set
trainable=True to tell TensorFlow we want to update the values of the word vectors,
by optimizing them for the task at hand. However, it is often useful to set
trainable=False and not update these values; for example, when we do not have
much labeled data or have reason to believe the word vectors are already “good” at
capturing the patterns we are after.
There is one more step missing to fully incorporate the word vectors into the training
—feeding embedding_placeholder with embedding_matrix. We will get to that soon,
Pretrained Embeddings, Advanced RNN | 109
but for now we continue the graph building and introduce bidirectional RNN layers
and GRU cells.
Bidirectional RNN and GRU Cells
Bidirectional RNN layers are a simple extension of the RNN layers we saw in Chap‐
ter 5. All they consist of, in their basic form, is two ordinary RNN layers: one layer
that reads the sequence from left to right, and another that reads from right to left.
Each yields a hidden representation, the left-to-right vector h, and the right-to-left
vector h. These are then concatenated into one vector. The major advantage of this
representation is its ability to capture the context of words from both directions,
which enables richer understanding of natural language and the underlying seman‐
tics in text. In practice, in complex tasks, it often leads to improved accuracy. For
example, in part-of-speech (POS) tagging, we want to output a predicted tag for each
word in a sentence (such as “noun,” “adjective,” etc.). In order to predict a POS tag for
a given word, it is useful to have information on its surrounding words, from both
Gated recurrent unit (GRU) cells are a simplification of sorts of LSTM cells. They also
have a memory mechanism, but with considerably fewer parameters than LSTM.
They are often used when there is less available data, and are faster to compute. We
do not go into the mathematical details here, as they are not important for our pur‐
poses; there are many good online resources explaining GRU and how it is different
from LSTM.
TensorFlow comes equipped with tf.nn.bidirectional_dynamic_rnn(), which is
an extension of dynamic_rnn() for bidirectional layers. It takes cell_fw and cell_bw
RNN cells, which are the left-to-right and right-to-left vectors, respectively. Here we
use GRUCell() for our forward and backward representations and add dropout for
regularization, using the built-in DropoutWrapper():
with tf.name_scope("biGRU"):
with tf.variable_scope('forward'):
gru_fw_cell = tf.contrib.rnn.GRUCell(hidden_layer_size)
gru_fw_cell = tf.contrib.rnn.DropoutWrapper(gru_fw_cell)
with tf.variable_scope('backward'):
gru_bw_cell = tf.contrib.rnn.GRUCell(hidden_layer_size)
gru_bw_cell = tf.contrib.rnn.DropoutWrapper(gru_bw_cell)
outputs, states = tf.nn.bidirectional_dynamic_rnn(cell_fw=gru_fw_cell,
110 | Chapter 6: Text II: Word Vectors, Advanced RNN, and Embedding Visualization
states = tf.concat(values=states, axis=1)
We concatenate the forward and backward state vectors by using tf.concat() along
the suitable axis, and then add a linear layer followed by softmax as in Chapter 5:
weights = {
'linear_layer': tf.Variable(tf.truncated_normal([2*hidden_layer_size,
biases = {
# extract the final state and use in a linear layer
final_output = tf.matmul(states,
weights["linear_layer"]) + biases["linear_layer"]
softmax = tf.nn.softmax_cross_entropy_with_logits(logits=final_output,
cross_entropy = tf.reduce_mean(softmax)
train_step = tf.train.RMSPropOptimizer(0.001, 0.9).minimize(cross_entropy)
correct_prediction = tf.equal(tf.argmax(_labels,1),
accuracy = (tf.reduce_mean(tf.cast(correct_prediction,
We are now ready to train. We initialize the embedding_placeholder by feeding it
our embedding_matrix. It’s important to note that we do so after calling
tf.global_variables_initializer()—doing this in the reverse order would over‐
run the pre-trained vectors with a default initializer:
with tf.Session() as sess:
sess.run(embedding_init, feed_dict=
{embedding_placeholder: embedding_matrix})
for step in range(1000):
x_batch, y_batch,seqlen_batch = get_sentence_batch(batch_size,
sess.run(train_step,feed_dict={_inputs:x_batch, _labels:y_batch,
if step % 100 == 0:
acc = sess.run(accuracy,feed_dict={_inputs:x_batch,
print("Accuracy at %d: %.5f" % (step, acc))
Pretrained Embeddings, Advanced RNN | 111
for test_batch in range(5):
x_test, y_test,seqlen_test = get_sentence_batch(batch_size,
batch_pred,batch_acc = sess.run([tf.argmax(final_output,1),
print("Test batch accuracy %d: %.5f" % (test_batch, batch_acc))
print("Test batch accuracy %d: %.5f" % (test_batch, batch_acc))
In this chapter, we extended our knowledge regarding working with text sequences,
adding some important tools to our TensorFlow toolbox. We saw a basic implementa‐
tion of word2vec, learning the core concepts and ideas, and used TensorBoard for 3D
interactive visualization of embeddings. We then incorporated publicly available
GloVe word vectors, and RNN components that allow for richer and more efficient
models. In the next chapter, we will see how to use abstraction libraries, including for
classification tasks on real text data with LSTM networks.
112 | Chapter 6: Text II: Word Vectors, Advanced RNN, and Embedding Visualization
TensorFlow Abstractions and
The aim of this chapter is to get you familiarized with important practical extensions
to TensorFlow. We start by describing what abstractions are and why they are useful
to us, followed by a brief review of some of the popular TensorFlow abstraction libra‐
ries. We then go into two of these libraries in more depth, demonstrating some of
their core functionalities along with some examples.
Chapter Overview
As most readers probably know, the term abstraction in the context of programming
refers to a layer of code “on top” of existing code that performs purpose-driven gener‐
alizations of the original code. Abstractions are formed by grouping and wrapping
pieces of code that are related to some higher-order functionality in a way that con‐
veniently reframes them together. The result is simplified code that is easier to write,
read, and debug, and generally easier and faster to work with. In many cases Tensor‐
Flow abstractions not only make the code cleaner, but can also drastically reduce
code length and as a result significantly cut development time.
To get us going, let’s illustrate this basic notion in the context of TensorFlow, and take
another look at some code for building a CNN like we did in Chapter 4:
def weight_variable(shape):
initial = tf.truncated_normal(shape, stddev=0.1)
return tf.Variable(initial)
def bias_variable(shape):
initial = tf.constant(0.1, shape=shape)
return tf.Variable(initial)
def conv2d(x, W):
return tf.nn.conv2d(x, W, strides=[1, 1, 1, 1],
def conv_layer(input, shape):
W = weight_variable(shape)
b = bias_variable([shape[3]])
h = tf.nn.relu(conv2d(input, W) + b)
hp = max_pool_2x2(h)