Skip to content
HackerRank Launches Two New Products: SkillUp and Engage Read now
Join us at the AI Skills & Tech Talent Summit in London! Register now
The 2024 Developer Skills Report is here! Read now
Stream HackerRank AI Day, featuring new innovations and industry thought leaders. Watch now
Artificial Intelligence

10 Types of Neural Networks, Explained

Written By April Bohnert | May 17, 2023

Neural networks have become a driving force in the world of machine learning, enabling us to make significant strides in fields like speech recognition, image processing, and even medical diagnosis. This technology has evolved rapidly over the past few years, allowing us to develop powerful systems that can mimic the way our brains process information.

The impact of neural networks is being felt across countless industries, from healthcare to finance to marketing. They’re helping us solve complex problems in new and innovative ways, and yet we’ve only scratched the surface of what neural networks can do.

But not all neural networks are built alike. In fact, neural networks can take many different shapes and forms, and each is uniquely positioned to tackle different problems and types of data. Here, we’ll explore some of the different types of neural networks, explain how they work, and provide insight into their real-world applications. 

What are Neural Networks?

Before we dive into the types of neural networks, it’s essential to understand what neural networks are. 

A sub-discipline of deep learning, neural networks are complex computational models that are designed to imitate the structure and function of the human brain. These models are composed of many interconnected nodes — called neurons — that process and transmit information. With the ability to learn patterns and relationships from large datasets, neural networks enable the creation of algorithms that can recognize images, translate languages, and even predict future outcomes.

Neural networks are often referred to as a black box because their inner workings are often opaque. We don’t always know how all the individual neurons work together to arrive at the final output. You feed data into it — anything from images to text to numerical data — and the neural network processes that data through its interconnected neurons. The output could be anything from a prediction about the input to a classification of the input, based on the data that was fed into the network. 

Neural networks are especially adept at recognizing patterns, and this makes them incredibly useful for solving complex problems that involve large amounts of data. They can be used to make stock market predictions, analyze X-rays and CT scans, and even forecast the weather

How Do Neural Networks Work?

Neural networks are designed to learn from data, which means that they improve their performance over time as they are exposed to more data. This process of learning is called training, and it involves adjusting the weights and biases of the neurons in the network to minimize the error between the predicted output and the actual output.

Weights and Biases

In neural networks, weights and biases are numerical values assigned to each neuron, which help the network make predictions or decisions based on input data.

Imagine you’re trying to predict whether someone will like a certain movie based on their age and gender. In a neural network, each neuron in the input layer represents a different piece of information about the person, such as their age and gender. These neurons then pass their information to the next layer, where each neuron has a weight assigned to it that represents how important that particular input is for making the prediction.

For example, let’s say the network determines that age is more important than gender in predicting movie preferences. In this case, the age neuron would have a higher weight than the gender neuron, indicating that the network should pay more attention to age when making predictions.

Biases in a neural network are similar to weights, but they’re added to each neuron before the activation function — which decides how much of the inputs from the previous layer of neurons should be passed on to the next layer — is applied. Think of a bias as a sort of “default” value for a neuron — it helps the network adjust its predictions based on the overall tendencies of the data it’s processing.

For example, if the network is trying to predict whether someone will like a movie based on their age and gender, and it has seen that women generally tend to like romantic comedies more than men, it might adjust its predictions by adding a positive bias to the output of the gender neuron when it’s processing data from women. This would essentially tell the network to “expect” women to be more likely to like romantic comedies, based on what it has learned from the data.

How Neural Networks Are Structured

The basic structure of a neural network consists of three layers: the input layer, the hidden layer(s), and the output layer. The input layer is where the data is fed into the network, and the output layer is where the network outputs its prediction or decision.

The hidden layer(s) are where most of the computation in the network takes place. Each neuron in the hidden layer is connected to every neuron in the previous layer, and the weights and biases of these connections are adjusted during training to improve the performance of the network.

The number of hidden layers and neurons in each layer can vary depending on the complexity of the problem and the amount of data available. Deep neural networks, which have multiple hidden layers, have been shown to be particularly effective for complex tasks such as image recognition and natural language processing.

Types of Neural Networks

Neural networks can take many different forms, each with their own unique structure and function. In this section, we will explore some of the most common types of neural networks and their applications.

Feedforward Neural Networks

Feedforward neural networks are the most basic type of neural network. They consist of an input layer, one or more hidden layers, and an output layer. The data flows through the network in a forward direction, from the input layer to the output layer.

Feedforward neural networks are widely used for a variety of tasks, including image and speech recognition, natural language processing, and predictive modeling. For example, a feedforward neural network could be used to predict the likelihood of a customer churning based on their past behavior.

In a feedforward neural network, the input data is passed through the network, and each neuron in the hidden layer(s) performs a weighted sum of the inputs, applies an activation function, and passes the output to the next layer. The weights and biases of the neurons are adjusted during training to minimize the error between the predicted output and the actual output.


The perceptron is one of the earliest types of neural networks and was first implemented in 1958 by Frank Rosenblatt. It is a single-layer neural network that takes a set of inputs, processes them, and produces an output. 

Perceptrons can be used for a range of tasks, including image recognition, signal processing, and control systems. However, one drawback of these neural networks is that they can only solve problems where the data can be separated into two categories using a straight line — known as a linearly separable problem — limiting the network’s ability to solve more complex problems. 

Perceptrons work by applying weights to the input data and then summing them up. The sum is then passed through an activation function to produce an output. The activation function is typically a threshold function that outputs a 1 or 0 depending on whether the sum is above or below a certain threshold.  

Multilayer Perceptron

The Multilayer Perceptron (MLP) is a type of neural network that contains multiple layers of perceptrons. MLPs are a type of feedforward neural network and are commonly used for classification tasks.

Each layer in an MLP consists of multiple perceptrons, and the output of one layer is fed into the next layer as input. The input layer receives the raw data, and the output layer produces the final prediction. The hidden layers in between are responsible for transforming the input into a form that is suitable for the output layer.

Some applications of MLPs include image recognition, speech recognition, time series analysis, and natural language processing. 

Recurrent Neural Networks

Recurrent neural networks (RNNs) are a type of neural network that are designed for processing sequential data, such as text and speech. They are made up of recurrent neurons, which allow the network to maintain a “memory” of previous inputs.

RNNs are commonly used for natural language processing tasks, such as language translation and text generation. They can also be used for speech recognition and time series prediction. For example, an RNN could be used to generate a new sentence based on a given input sentence.

In an RNN, the input data is processed through a series of recurrent neurons, which take the current input and the output from the previous time step as input. This allows the network to maintain a memory of previous inputs and context. The weights and biases of the neurons are adjusted during training to minimize the error between the predicted output and the actual output — a process called backpropagation.

LSTM – Long Short-Term Memory

Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) is a type of recurrent neural network (RNN) that is designed to handle long-term dependencies. It is composed of memory cells, input gates, output gates, and forget gates.

LSTM networks are used in natural language processing tasks, such as speech recognition, text translation, and sentiment analysis. They are also used in the field of image recognition, where they are used to recognize objects and scenes within an image.

LSTM networks work by allowing information to flow through the memory cells over time. The input gate determines which information should be stored in the memory cells, while the forget gate determines which information should be removed. The output gate then determines which information should be passed on to the next layer. This allows the network to remember important information over long periods of time and to selectively forget irrelevant information.

LSTM networks have proven to be very effective in solving problems with long-term dependencies and are widely used in the field of natural language processing. They are also used in speech recognition, handwriting recognition, and other applications where long-term memory is important.

Radial Basis Functional Neural Network

A Radial Basis Function (RBF) neural network is another type of feedforward neural network that uses a set of radial basis functions to transform its inputs into outputs. Like many neural networks, it is composed of three layers: the input layer, the hidden layer, and the output layer.

RBF networks are commonly used for pattern recognition, classification, and control tasks. One of the most popular applications of RBF networks is in the field of image recognition, where they are used to identify objects within an image.

The RBF network works by first transforming the input data using a set of radial basis functions. These functions calculate the distance between the input and a set of predefined centers in the hidden layer. The outputs from the hidden layer are then combined linearly to produce the final output. The weights of the connections between the hidden layer and the output layer are trained using a supervised learning algorithm, such as backpropagation.

RBF networks are often used for problems with large datasets because they can learn to generalize well and provide good predictions. They are also used for time-series analysis and prediction, as well as financial forecasting.

Convolutional Neural Networks

Convolutional neural networks (CNNs) are a type of neural network that are designed for processing grid-like data, such as images. They are made up of multiple layers, including convolutional layers, pooling layers, and fully-connected layers, which each playing a different and interconnected part in processing data and simplifying outputs.

CNNs are commonly used for image and video recognition tasks, such as object detection, facial recognition, and self-driving cars. For example, a CNN could be used to classify images of cats and dogs based on their features.

In a CNN, the input data is processed through multiple convolutional layers, which apply filters to the input and extract features. The output of the convolutional layers is then passed through pooling layers, which downsample the data and reduce its dimensionality. Finally, the output is passed through fully connected layers, which perform the final classification or prediction.

Autoencoder Neural Networks

Autoencoder neural networks are a type of neural network that is used for unsupervised learning, which means that they do not require labeled data to make predictions. They are primarily used for data compression and feature extraction.

Autoencoder neural networks work by compressing the input data into a lower-dimensional representation and then reconstructing it back into the original format. This allows them to identify the most important features of the input data.

Autoencoder neural networks are commonly used in applications such as data compression, image denoising, and anomaly detection. For example, NASA uses an autoencoder algorithm to detect anomalies in spacecraft sensor data.

Sequence to Sequence Models

Sequence to sequence (Seq2Seq) models are a type of neural network that uses deep learning techniques to enable machines to understand and generate natural language. They consist of an encoder and a decoder, which convert one sequence of data into another. This type of network is often used in machine translation, summarization, and conversation systems.

One of the most common applications of Seq2Seq models is machine translation, where the encoder takes the source language and converts it into a vector representation, which the decoder then uses to generate the corresponding text in the target language. Seq2Seq models have been used to develop state-of-the-art machine translation systems, such as Google Translate and DeepL.

Another application of Seq2Seq models is in summarization, where the encoder takes a long document and generates a shorter summary. These models have also been used in chatbots and other conversational agents to generate responses to user input.

Seq2Seq models work by first encoding the input sequence into a fixed-length vector representation, which captures the meaning of the sequence. The decoder then uses this vector to generate the output sequence one element at a time, predicting the next element based on the previous one and the context vector.

Modular Neural Network

Modular neural networks (MNN) are a type of neural network that allows multiple networks to be combined and work together to solve complex problems. In a modular network, each module is a separate network that is designed to solve a specific subproblem. The outputs from each module are then combined to provide a final output.

MNNs have been used to solve a wide range of complex problems, including computer vision, speech recognition, and robotics. For example, in computer vision, a modular network may be used to detect different objects in an image, with each module responsible for detecting a specific type of object. The outputs from each module are then combined to provide a final classification of the image.

One advantage of MNNs is that they allow for flexibility and modularity in the design of neural networks, making it easier to build complex systems by combining simpler modules. This makes it possible to develop large-scale systems with multiple modules, each solving a specific subproblem.

Another advantage of MNNs is that they can be more robust than traditional neural networks, as each module can be designed to handle a specific type of input or noise. This means that even if one module fails, the overall system can still function, as other modules can take over.

Key Takeaways

As technology continues to evolve, the use of neural networks is becoming increasingly important in the tech industry, and the demand for professionals with machine learning skills is growing rapidly. To learn more about the skills and competencies needed to excel in machine learning, check out HackerRank’s role directory and explore our library of up-to-date resources.

This was written with the help of AI. Can you tell which parts?

Abstract, futuristic image of a computer generated by AI

What Does a Deep Learning Engineer Do? Role Overview & Skill Expectations