Different types of Recurrent Neural Network

In recent years, there has been a profound transformation in the field of natural language processing (NLP), fueled by groundbreaking developments in neural network architectures. Among these, Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) have emerged as indispensable tools, particularly well-suited for tasks involving sequential data.

Building these sophisticated models involves leveraging neural network architectures, with Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) playing a crucial role. RNNs are particularly well-suited for NLP tasks due to their inherent ability to handle sequential data.

Unlike traditional neural networks like Fully Connected Neural Networks (FCNNs) or Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs), RNNs can capture the contextual dependencies between words in a sentence, making them effective for tasks such as language modeling, machine translation, and sentiment analysis.

However, traditional methods face limitations in tasks requiring an understanding of the sequential nature of language. FCNNs process input data in fixed-size chunks, ignoring the order of elements, while CNNs are optimized for grid-like data such as images and lack the inherent ability to comprehend the sequential nuances of language.

Reference – Logistic Regression

RNNs operate on the principle of recurrent connections, allowing information to persist and flow through the network, making them adept at understanding the temporal dependencies within sequences of words. This recurrent structure enables RNNs to maintain a hidden state that encapsulates the context of the entire input sequence, providing a unique advantage in NLP tasks.

In the upcoming exploration, we will delve into the workings of RNNs, understanding their architecture and how they address the challenges posed by traditional neural networks in the dynamic realm of natural language processing.

 Vanilla RNN:

Vanilla RNN, also known as simple RNN, processes inputs sequentially, maintaining the hidden state that encodes information about the inputs it has processed. At each step, the RNN does a series of calculations before producing an output. For classification tasks, a single output is needed. For text generation based on the previous word, an output is required at every time step.This iterative generation process allows the model to progressively generate a coherent sequence of words, building upon the context provided by the preceding words.

In the context of a time step ‘t’ in the sequence, the equations are:

Input to hidden state

 Hidden state Update (Using tanh as activation function)

These equations define the forward pass of a Vanilla RNN at a single time step. During training, the loss is computed based on the predicted output and the actual target. Backpropagation through time (BPTT) is then used to update the weights and biases.


1. Vanishing Gradient Problem:

The vanishing gradient problem in RNNs arises due to difficulties in learning and updating weights during backpropagation through time. As the network processes sequences over time, the gradients associated with early time steps can become extremely small. This phenomenon hinders the effective training of the model by making it challenging to capture and propagate information over long sequences. Consequently, RNNs struggle to learn and retain dependencies that are distant in time, limiting their ability to grasp context in lengthy sequential data.

2. Exploding Gradient Problem:

The exploding gradient problem in RNNs occurs when the gradients during backpropagation grow exponentially. This phenomenon leads to numerical instability, causing weights to become extremely large and resulting in unstable training. The exploding gradients can hinder the convergence of the model, making it difficult to effectively learn from the training data. To address this issue, techniques such as gradient clipping are often employed to control and limit the magnitude of the gradients during training.

Reference- Vanishing Gradient Problem

 Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM):

LSTM is designed to address the vanishing gradient problem. It aims to provide a short-term memory for RNN that can last thousands of time steps. The key innovation of LSTM lies in its use of specialized memory cells and gating mechanisms. LSTMs have three gating mechanisms that regulate the flow of information into and out of the cell.

On each time step ‘t’, we have a sequence of inputs x(t), and we will compute a sequence of hidden state h(t) and cell states c(t):

These forgetting allows the network to maintain relevant information over long sequences without being overly influenced by irrelevant past information.

The input gate determines which new information from the current input (x(t)​) should be stored in the memory cell (ct​). By controlling the input flow, LSTMs can prevent the vanishing gradient problem by allowing important information to be incorporated into the memory cell while filtering out less relevant details.

The output gate controls which information from the memory cell (c(t)​) should be passed on to the next hidden state (h(t)​). This mechanism ensures that only relevant information is used to update the hidden state, preventing unnecessary interference from irrelevant or redundant information.

The gating mechanisms essentially act as information channels, allowing the network to selectively pass and update information at each time step. This selective processing mitigates the vanishing gradient problem by enabling the network to focus on important signals and disregard less critical ones.

By selectively controlling the flow of information through time, LSTMs help maintain a more consistent and stable gradient flow during backpropagation through time (BPTT). This addresses the vanishing gradient problem, which can be especially problematic in Vanilla RNNs.

Reference – To Know more Mathematical concepts on  LSTM

Gated Recurrent Units (GRUs):

GRUs are a type of recurrent neural network architecture designed to capture long term dependencies in sequential data while addressing some of the limitations of traditional RNNs, such as vanishing gradient problem. GRUs share similarities with LSTM networks but have a slightly simplified architecture.

In GRUs we don’t have a cell state. The thing we have common with LSTMs is that using gates to control the flow of information. On each timestep t we have input x(t) and hidden state h(t):

Compared to LSTMs, GRUs have a slightly simpler structure, with one fewer gate, making them computationally less expensive.

It starts off with two gates, first gate is called the update gate view this as playing a role of both forget gate and the input gate in the LSTM. The second gate is called the reset gate, its kind of selecting which parts of the previous hidden states are useful versus not useful.

In the third equation we are applying reset gate to the previous hidden state ht minus  and then putting all of that through some linear transformations and activation function gives us the new content which we want to write to the hidden cell. And lastly our new hidden cell is going to be a combination of new content and the previous hidden state.

GRUs Introduce Update and reset gates to control the flow of information in and out of the hidden state allowing them to selectively update and remember information over time. Compared to LSTMs, GRUs have a slightly simpler structure, with one fewer gate, making them Compuatationally less expensive.

Both GRUs and LSTMs are designed to address the vanishing gradient problem and capture long-term dependencies in sequential data. The choice between GRU and LSTM often depends on the specific characteristics of the task and available resources.

Limitation of LSTM and GRUs:

1. Computational Complexity:

LSTMs and GRUs, especially LSTMs, can be computationally expensive. The operations involving the gating mechanisms and memory cells can increase the computational load, making them less efficient than simpler models in certain scenarios.

2. Interpretability:

The internal workings of LSTMs and GRUs, especially with multiple layers and complex architectures, can be challenging to interpret. Understanding how information is processed and stored within the memory cells may not be straightforward.

3. Limited Improvement for Short Sequences:

For very short sequences, the additional complexity introduced by LSTM and GRU architectures may not provide a significant advantage over simpler models like Vanilla RNNs. The overhead of the additional parameters and computations may not be justified in such cases.

4. Hyperparameter Sensitivity:

The performance of LSTMs and GRUs can be sensitive to hyperparameter choices. Finding the optimal set of hyperparameters might require extensive experimentation.

5. Trade-off Between Gates:

There can be a trade-off between the roles of different gates (e.g., forget gate, input gate) in LSTM and GRU architectures. Adjusting one gate’s behavior might impact the effectiveness of others, and finding the right balance can be challenging.

6. Limited Global Attention:

LSTMs and GRUs do not have built-in mechanisms for global attention, making it challenging to focus on specific parts of the input sequence when making predictions.


While these limitations exist, it’s important to note that LSTMs and GRUs have been highly successful in various applications, especially when capturing long-term dependencies is crucial. Despite these considerations, the development of the Transformer architecture marked a significant breakthrough in addressing certain limitations and has become a popular choice for sequence modeling tasks, especially in natural language processing.

Reference: Key challenges in Artificial Intelligence

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