Abstract: Various hypotheses of information representation in brain, referred to as neural codes, have been proposed to explain the information transmission between neurons. Neural coding plays an essential role in enabling the brain-inspired spiking neural networks (SNNs) to perform different tasks. To search for the best coding scheme, we performed an extensive comparative study on the impact and performance of four important neural coding schemes, namely, rate coding, time-to-first spike (TTFS) coding, phase coding, and burst coding. The comparative study was carried out using a biological 2-layer SNN trained with an unsupervised spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP) algorithm. Various aspects of network performance were considered, including classification accuracy, processing latency, synaptic operations (SOPs), hardware implementation, network compression efficacy, input and synaptic noise resilience, and synaptic fault tolerance. The classification tasks on Modified National Institute of Standards and Technology (MNIST) and Fashion-MNIST datasets were applied in our study. For hardware implementation, area and power consumption were estimated for these coding schemes, and the network compression efficacy was analyzed using pruning and quantization techniques. Different types of input noise and noise variations in the datasets were considered and applied. Furthermore, the robustness of each coding scheme to the non-ideality-induced synaptic noise and fault in analog neuromorphic systems was studied and compared. Our results show that TTFS coding is the best choice in achieving the highest computational performance with very low hardware implementation overhead. TTFS coding requires 4x/7.5x lower processing latency and 3.5x/6.5x fewer SOPs than rate coding during the training/inference process. Phase coding is the most resilient scheme to input noise. Burst coding offers the highest network compression efficacy and the best overall robustness to hardware non-idealities for both training and inference processes. The study presented in this paper reveals the design space created by the choice of each coding scheme, allowing designers to frame each scheme in terms of its strength and weakness given a designs' constraints and considerations in neuromorphic systems.
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