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What is Recurrent Neural Network

  • September 02, 2023
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In the realm of artificial intelligence and deep learning, traditional neural networks faced limitations in capturing temporal dependencies and contextual relationships within sequences. Cutting-edge neural networks often processed each input independently, neglecting the interplay between data points. While this approach proves effective for tasks like image classification, it falls short when dealing with sequential data where element order carries significance. In sequential data, dependencies frequently emerge during temporal processing, presenting the challenge of effectively modeling these temporal relationships, patterns, and contextual nuances, particularly in the domains of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and time series analysis.

Various forms of sequential data exist, with the most common including audio, text, video, and biological sequences. To address the complexities of these data types, we delve into the realm of Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs).

Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) constitute a class of neural networks ideally suited for handling time-series data and other types of sequential data. In this context, we introduce RNNs as an extension of feedforward networks, designed to facilitate the processing of variable-length, and in some cases, even infinite-length sequences. We will also explore some of the most prominent recurrent architectures in use today, such as Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) networks and Gated Recurrent Units (GRUs).

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In the expansive domain of artificial intelligence and machine learning, Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) stand out as a fundamental tool for addressing problems involving sequential data. Whether deciphering the intricacies of natural language or predicting stock market trends, RNNs have become a preferred solution for a wide range of applications that necessitate an understanding of temporal dependencies. These networks have evolved into indispensable tools in the fields of artificial intelligence and data science, owing to their unique capacity to process and comprehend sequential data. This blog aims to offer a comprehensive understanding of RNNs, covering their architecture, training methodologies, applications, and recent advancements. It will delve into their significance across various domains, spanning from natural language processing to time series analysis."

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Recurrent Neural Networks

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What is a Recurrent Neural Network?

A Recurrent Neural Network (RNN) stands as a distinctive class of neural networks meticulously designed for the analysis and processing of sequential data. In RNNs, a critical mechanism involves transmitting the output from the previous time step as input to the current time step. This unique feature endows RNNs with a built-in memory component, enabling them to effectively retain information from prior time steps within the sequence. This intrinsic memory capacity empowers RNNs to capture intricate patterns and dependencies that unfold over time, rendering them exceptionally proficient for tasks where the sequencing of data points holds significance.

In contrast to conventional neural networks, where inputs and outputs operate independently of one another, RNNs address scenarios that demand an awareness of the preceding elements. For instance, when predicting the subsequent word in a sentence, prior words become essential context. RNNs resolve this issue by employing a Hidden Layer, which serves as a pivotal component. The paramount feature within an RNN lies in its Hidden State, often referred to as the Memory State. This state retains valuable information from the sequence, effectively remembering the antecedent input to the network. Importantly, it employs the same set of parameters across all inputs or hidden layers, performing a consistent task on each input. This approach simplifies parameter complexity, setting RNNs apart from other neural network architectures.

Purpose of RNN

Fundamentally, RNNs are primarily designed to model sequences and capture time-dependent relationships within data. Their strength lies in their ability to proficiently comprehend and forecast patterns in data characterized by temporal attributes. Be it the task of predicting the subsequent word in a sentence, generating musical compositions, speech recognition, or forecasting stock prices, RNNs assume a pivotal role in enabling machines to both grasp and generate sequential data. Essentially, RNNs serve as a linchpin in enhancing machine comprehension and generation of sequential data across a spectrum of applications.

Architecture Diagram

Recurrent Neural Networks

Input: In the context of a Recurrent Neural Network (RNN), at each time step denoted as 't,' the network receives an input vector, represented as 'x(t),' signifying the current element within the sequence. This input may take various forms, such as a word within a sentence, a pixel in an image, or any pertinent data point.

Hidden State: Within the RNN architecture, a concealed state 'h(t)' is maintained. This hidden state effectively encapsulates information gleaned from preceding time steps. It serves as a memory mechanism, accumulating knowledge about the sequence as it processes each element. At the core of an RNN's architecture lies the concept of recurrence, allowing it to sustain a hidden state that retains information from prior time steps, thereby influencing the current prediction. This inherent recurrence empowers RNNs to handle sequences of varying lengths and to discern patterns contingent upon the context established by prior elements.

Output: Depending on the specific task at hand, the hidden state at each time step can be harnessed to generate an output, denoted as 'y(t).' This output may take diverse forms, such as predictions, classifications, or other pertinent results.

The primary characteristic that sets Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) apart is their innate capacity to preserve an internal memory. This unique attribute enables RNNs to retain knowledge regarding prior inputs while systematically processing subsequent elements within a sequence. This memory function bestows upon RNNs a significant advantage over feedforward networks, particularly in scenarios involving data with a defined order or temporal structure.

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How RNN works:Unprecedented explanation of inner mechanism

RNNs function by employing a concealed state that evolves continuously as the network processes individual inputs within a given sequence. This hidden state functions as a memory repository, encoding information from preceding time steps, thereby enabling the network to consider contextual history when making predictions or generating outputs. This iterative feedback loop mechanism equips RNNs with the capability to apprehend temporal dependencies.

Consider, for instance, a scenario in language modeling where the objective is to predict the subsequent word within a sentence. As the RNN sequentially processes each word in the sentence, the hidden state dynamically evolves, encapsulating the contextual nuances of preceding words. This contextual information is subsequently utilized to construct a probability distribution encompassing potential next words. The projected word then assumes the role of input for the ensuing time step, perpetuating the process and effectively capturing the inherent linguistic structure.

Real World Examples :Touch to World

1. Natural Language Processing (NLP): RNNs have ushered in a transformative era in Natural Language Processing (NLP), empowering a myriad of tasks including language translation, sentiment analysis, and text generation. For instance, Google, among other pioneers in the field, has harnessed the capabilities of RNNs to advance the state of NLP

Recurrent Neural Networks Recurrent Neural Networks

2. Stock Market Prediction: Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) have the capability to analyze historical stock price data, leveraging this information to make predictions about future market trends. Through a thorough examination of past price sequences, RNNs can discern underlying patterns and trends that hold the potential to impact future price fluctuations.

Recurrent Neural Networks

3. Speech Recognition: Companies like Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa utilize RNNs to transcribe spoken language into text, enabling voice commands and interactions.

Recurrent Neural Networks

4. Music Generation: RNNs can be trained on existing musical compositions to generate new melodies and harmonies. This has led to AI-generated music that mimics the style of renowned composers.

Recurrent Neural Networks

5. Time Series Forecasting: Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) demonstrate exceptional proficiency in forecasting future values within time series data, rendering them invaluable for critical tasks such as weather forecasting and demand prediction within supply chain management.

Types of Recurrent Neural Networks

1.Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM): Long Short-Term Memory networks, commonly known as LSTMs, effectively tackle the vanishing gradient problem encountered by conventional RNNs. They introduce memory cells and gating mechanisms that empower them to capture extensive temporal dependencies while mitigating the vanishing gradient challenge.

The LSTM network stands out as a robust and extensively employed iteration of RNNs, specifically designed to combat the vanishing gradient problem. By integrating essential gating mechanisms like input, forget, and output gates, LSTMs exhibit the capability to selectively retain or discard information across time steps, rendering them exceptionally adept at modeling prolonged dependencies.

Recurrent Neural Networks

2.Gated Recurrent Unit (GRU): Gated Recurrent Units, or GRUs, offer a streamlined alternative to LSTMs, effectively tackling the vanishing gradient issue as well. They achieve this by consolidating the memory cell and hidden state into a singular unit, thus reducing complexity while upholding performance standards.

GRUs represent a simplified rendition of LSTMs, characterized by a reduced parameter count, and intriguingly, they frequently deliver performance on par with their more intricate counterparts. GRUs have garnered popularity thanks to their straightforward implementation and their proficiency in efficiently capturing dependencies within sequential data.

Recurrent Neural Networks

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Applications in Real World

1.Finance: Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) are applied for predicting stock prices, forecasting currency exchange rates, and evaluating credit risk.

2.Healthcare: RNNs help analyze patient data over time, predict disease outbreaks, and improve medical diagnoses.

3.Marketing: RNNs aid in predicting consumer behavior, enabling businesses to tailor their marketing strategies effectively.

4.Speech and Text Generation: RNNs are used in chatbots, virtual assistants, and automatic text generation for various purposes.

Applications of Recurrent Neural Networks

A. Natural Language Processing (NLP)

RNNs have found extensive use in Natural Language Processing (NLP) tasks, encompassing language modeling, machine translation, sentiment analysis, text generation, and question answering. Their adeptness at comprehending sequential dependencies underscores their indispensability in the realm of NLP.

B. Time Series Analysis

Time series analysis benefits from the application of Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) in various capacities, including forecasting, anomaly detection (the identification of data points or patterns significantly deviating from the expected norm), and pattern recognition. The intrinsic ability of RNNs to capture temporal patterns positions them as potent tools for processing time-dependent data effectively.

C. Speech Recognition

Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) assume a pivotal role in automatic speech recognition systems, facilitating the conversion of spoken language into written text. Notably, the integration of Bidirectional RNNs and attention mechanisms has substantially enhanced the performance of speech recognition models.

Features OF RNN’S

1. Recurrent Connections: The fundamental feature of RNNs is their ability to maintain an internal memory through recurrent connections. This means that the output of the RNN at a given time step not only depends on the current input but also on the hidden state (or memory) from the previous time step. This recurrent feedback loop enables RNNs to process sequences of varying lengths and capture temporal dependencies in the data.

Recurrent Neural Networks

2. Handling Variable-Length Sequences: RNNs can handle input sequences of varying lengths, making them suitable for tasks where the length of the data varies, such as natural language processing, speech recognition, and time series analysis. Traditional feedforward neural networks require fixed-size input, making them unsuitable for handling such dynamic data.

3. Time-Step Unrolling: During training, RNNs are typically unrolled through time, converting the recurrent structure into an unfolded feedforward neural network. This unrolling enables the use of backpropagation through time (BPTT) to compute gradients and update the model's parameters, making training possible.

4. Bidirectional Processing: Bidirectional RNNs process input sequences in both forward and backward directions, enabling the model to access future context in addition to past context. This bidirectional processing enhances the model's ability to understand the context of a specific time step by considering the surrounding elements.

5. Recursive Composition: RNNs can also be used in a recursive or hierarchical composition, allowing them to process hierarchical structures such as parse trees in natural language or nested time series data.

6. Transfer Learning: Pretrained RNN models can be used as a starting point for transfer learning in tasks with limited training data. By leveraging knowledge learned from a large dataset, the model can be fine-tuned on specific tasks, speeding up training and potentially improving performance.

7. Versatility: RNNs are versatile and can handle various types of sequential data, including natural language, time series, speech, and music. Their adaptability makes them suitable for a wide range of applications, from language translation and sentiment analysis to weather forecasting and video analysis.

8. Architectural Variants: RNNs offer several architectural variants, each designed to address specific challenges. Popular RNN variants include Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) networks and Gated Recurrent Units (GRUs). LSTMs and GRUs use gating mechanisms to control the flow of information through the network, mitigating the vanishing and exploding gradient problems present in vanilla RNNs.

9. Memory Element: The recurrent connections in RNNs allow them to maintain a memory of previous inputs, which helps in modeling long-term dependencies in sequential data. This memory element is critical in tasks that require understanding context over time, such as language translation and sentiment analysis.

Code Snippet in Python

In this code Snippet:

Recurrent Neural Networks

1. We import the required libraries: NumPy for numerical operations, TensorFlow for building and training the RNN, and the necessary modules from TensorFlow Keras for constructing the neural network.

2. We define a toy sequential dataset X_train and corresponding target values y_train. This dataset is used for training the RNN to learn a simple sequence pattern.

3. We create the RNN model using the Sequential API. The model consists of a single SimpleRNN layer with 1 unit (neuron) and a linear activation function. The input shape is specified as (2,), as each input sequence has two features.

4. The model is compiled with the Adam optimizer and Mean Squared Error (MSE) loss function, suitable for regression problems.

5. The model is trained on the toy dataset X_train and y_train for 100 epochs with a batch size of 1.

6. After training, we use the model to make predictions on new data X_test, which consists of two sequences. The predicted values are printed as predictions.

Code Snippet in AI

Recurrent Neural Networks

1. We import the required libraries: NumPy for numerical operations, TensorFlow for building and training the RNN, and the necessary modules from TensorFlow Keras for constructing the neural network.

2. We define a toy sequential dataset X_train and corresponding target values y_train. This dataset is used for training the RNN to learn a simple sequence pattern.

3. We create the RNN model using the Sequential API. The model consists of a single SimpleRNN layer with 1 unit (neuron) and a linear activation function. The input shape is specified as (2,), as each input sequence has two features.

4. The model is compiled with the Adam optimizer and Mean Squared Error (MSE) loss function, suitable for regression problems.

5. The model is trained on the toy dataset X_train and y_train for 100 epochs with a batch size of 1.

6. After training, we use the model to make predictions on new data X_test, which consists of two sequences. The predicted values are printed as predictions.

The Future of Recurrent Neural Networks

1. Attention Mechanisms and Transformer-based Architectures:

Attention mechanisms, originally introduced by the Transformer architecture, have been integrated with RNNs to enhance their ability to capture long-range dependencies and context within sequences. This integration has led to improved performance in various natural language processing tasks.

Example: Consider the task of machine translation using a sequence-to-sequence model with an RNN backbone. Traditional RNNs struggle to capture long-range dependencies in long sentences, potentially leading to translation errors. By incorporating attention mechanisms, the model learns to assign different weights to different words in the input sequence while generating each word of the translation. This enables the model to focus on relevant words and improve the quality of translations.

2. Hierarchical RNNs for Multiscale Learning:

Hierarchical RNNs (HRNNs) have been developed to capture patterns at multiple levels of granularity within sequences. These models allow for the identification of both short-term and long-term dependencies in sequential data, making them valuable for tasks involving complex structures and hierarchical patterns.

Example: Consider a task of sentiment analysis in product reviews. HRNNs can capture both the sentiment of individual words and the sentiment of phrases or sentences within a review. For instance, the phrase "not good" might carry a different sentiment than the individual words "not" and "good." A hierarchical RNN can learn to distinguish between these levels of sentiment and improve the accuracy of sentiment analysis.

Challenges and Opportunities

1.Vanishing and Exploding Gradients: Traditional RNNs are prone to vanishing and exploding gradient problems, which occur during backpropagation through time. These issues can hinder the network's ability to capture long-range dependencies and affect training stability.

2.Training Complexity: RNNs, especially when processing long sequences, can be computationally intensive and slow to train. The sequential nature of data processing limits opportunities for parallelization, leading to longer training times.

3.Memory Shortcomings: Standard RNNs might struggle to remember relevant information from earlier time steps, making them less effective for tasks requiring longer-term memory. This can lead to difficulties in capturing contextual information.

4.Overfitting: RNNs are susceptible to overfitting, especially when the model has many parameters and limited training data. Overfitting can result in poor generalization to new, unseen data.

5.Choice of Hyperparameters: Selecting appropriate hyperparameters, such as learning rate and sequence length, can be challenging and might require manual tuning or complex optimization techniques.

6.Limited Context: Some tasks require understanding context from both past and future time steps. Traditional RNNs only consider past information, making it difficult to capture bidirectional dependencies effectively.


In conclusion, Recurrent Neural Networks have revolutionized the field of sequential data processing, offering powerful solutions for a wide range of applications. Despite their challenges, RNNs remain a fundamental part of the deep learning landscape, continuously evolving to address new problems and empower innovative solutions in the realm of artificial intelligence. Recurrent Neural Networks have revolutionized the field of sequential learning, allowing deep learning models to process sequential data effectively. Their memory element and capacity to capture long-term dependencies make them indispensable in a wide range of applications. As the field of deep learning continues to evolve, RNNs will undoubtedly remain a crucial element in the journey towards achieving more advanced AI capabilities and unlocking the potential of sequential data analysis.

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