What is reservoir computing?
by Stephen M. Walker II, CoFounder / CEO
What is reservoir computing?
Reservoir Computing is a framework for training Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs). It involves two main components: a fixed, large, random recurrent neural network, known as the "reservoir", and a trainable output layer. The reservoir is used to transform the input data into a higherdimensional space, while the output layer is trained to read the activity from the reservoir.
The unique aspect of reservoir computing is that only the output weights are trained, leaving the reservoir's weights fixed, which significantly simplifies the training process. Reservoir Computing is particularly effective for tasks that require memory of past inputs, such as time series prediction, speech recognition, and other temporal processing tasks.
How does reservoir computing work?
Reservoir computing is a computational framework derived from recurrent neural network theory. It works by mapping input signals into higher dimensional computational spaces through the dynamics of a fixed, nonlinear system called a reservoir.
The reservoir is the internal structure of the computer and must have two properties: it must be made up of individual, nonlinear units, and it must be capable of storing information. The nonlinearity describes the response of each unit to input, which is what allows reservoir computers to solve complex problems. Reservoirs are able to store information by connecting the units in recurrent loops, where the previous input affects the next response.
The process of reservoir computing involves feeding the input signal into the reservoir, which is treated as a "black box". After this, a simple readout mechanism is trained to read the state of the reservoir and map it to the desired output. The key benefit of this framework is that training is performed only at the readout stage, as the reservoir dynamics are fixed. This drastically simplifies the training process compared to traditional recurrent neural networks.
Another advantage of reservoir computing is that it can leverage the computational power of naturally available systems, both classical and quantum mechanical, to reduce the effective computational cost. This makes it particularly suited for solving temporal classification, regression, or prediction tasks.
Reservoir computing has been used in a variety of applications, including timeseries analysis, chaotic timeseries prediction, separation of chaotic signals, and link inference of networks from their dynamics. However, it's important to note that the 'natural' time scale of the reservoir should be tuned to be in the same order of magnitude as the important time scales of the temporal application.
Despite its advantages, reservoir computing does have some drawbacks. The system can be difficult to understand and interpret, and it can be sensitive to changes in the input data. Furthermore, training the system, usually done using a method called echo state training, can be a timeconsuming process.
What are the benefits of reservoir computing?
Reservoir computing is a computational framework derived from recurrent neural network theory that offers several benefits:

Efficiency — Reservoir computing is more efficient than other types of artificial intelligence, such as artificial neural networks. This is because it only requires a small amount of training data to learn and generalize well. It is also robust to changes in the data, meaning that if the data changes, the reservoir computing algorithm will still be able to learn and generalize from it.

Reduced Computational Cost — The main advantage of reservoir computing systems is related to the significant reduction of the computational cost of learning. This is achieved by performing training only at the readout stage, as the reservoir dynamics are fixed.

Simplicity — Reservoir computing is relatively simple to implement. The nodes in the reservoir can be any type of simple computational unit, such as a neuron or an electronic gate. The system can be trained using a variety of different methods, including evolutionary algorithms and reinforcement learning.

Handling Complex Systems — Reservoir computing is especially wellsuited for learning dynamical systems. Even when systems display chaotic or complex spatiotemporal behaviors, which are considered the hardestofthehard problems, an optimized reservoir computer can handle them with ease.

No Need for Hyperparameter Optimization — In the reservoir computing algorithm, there is no need for kernel selection and hyperparameter optimization. Furthermore, its complexity does not depend on the amount of the training instances, due to the recursive updating rule.

Utilization of Natural Systems — The computational power of naturally available systems, both classical and quantum mechanical, can be used to reduce the effective computational cost.

Versatility — Reservoir computing has been used for a variety of applications, including speech recognition, image classification, timeseries prediction, chaotic timeseries prediction, separation of chaotic signals, and link inference of networks from their dynamics.
Reservoir computing offers a unique combination of efficiency, reduced computational cost, simplicity, and versatility, making it a promising approach to artificial intelligence.
What are the challenges of reservoir computing?
Reservoir computing faces several challenges, including:
 Long warmup time — Reservoir computing models require a long warmup time to correctly predict the system, which can be timeconsuming.
 Hyperparameter sensitivity — The performance of reservoir computing models is sensitive to the choice of hyperparameters, such as the size of the reservoir and the spectral radius of the weight matrix. Tuning these hyperparameters can be computationally expensive and timeconsuming.
 Input sensitivity — Reservoir computing models can be highly sensitive to small changes in input data, making them less robust in realworld scenarios.
 Large training data requirements — These models typically require a significant amount of labeled data to achieve good performance, which can be costly and timeconsuming to obtain.
 Computational complexity — Reservoir computing models, including recurrent neural networks (RNNs), are computationally expensive, especially when dealing with largescale datasets. This can limit their scalability and suitability for realtime or resourceconstrained applications.
 Training challenges — Reservoir computing systems are usually trained using echo state training, which can be a timeconsuming process and often difficult to converge on a good solution.
 Noise sensitivity — These systems are often sensitive to noise and other perturbations, making them difficult to use in realworld applications where data is not always clean and noisefree.
Despite these challenges, researchers are actively working on addressing them and improving the capabilities of reservoir computing, such as regularization and optimization algorithms to enhance the training process and improve performance.
What is the future of reservoir computing?
The future of reservoir computing looks promising as researchers continue to explore its potential in various applications and improve its efficiency. Reservoir computing is a machine learning paradigm particularly wellsuited for learning dynamical systems, even those with chaotic or complex spatiotemporal behaviors. It has been used for timeseries analysis, chaotic timeseries prediction, radar signal classification, and speech recognition.
Recent advances in physical reservoir computing have attracted attention in diverse fields of research. Researchers are also exploring neuromorphic implementations of reservoir computing, which could lead to ultrafast learning in the temporal domain. Moreover, nextgeneration reservoir computing, based on nonlinear vector autoregression, has been shown to excel at benchmark tasks while requiring even shorter training data sets and training time.
However, some limitations have been identified in reservoir computing, particularly for complicated dynamic systems. Addressing these limitations and further expanding its practical applications will be crucial for the future development of reservoir computing. Overall, the field is expected to continue evolving, with new methodologies, hardware implementations, and applications emerging.