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What if we do not use any activation function(s) in a neural network?

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The main aim of this question is to understand why we need activation functions in a neural network. You can start off by giving a simple explanation of how neural networks are built:

Step 1: Calculate the sum of all the inputs (X) according to their weights and include the bias term:

Z = (weights * X) + bias

Step 2: Apply an activation function to calculate the expected output:

Y = Activation(Z)

Steps 1 and 2 are performed at each layer. If you recollect, this is nothing but forward propagation! Now, what if there is no activation function?

Our equation for Y essentially becomes:

Y = Z = (weights * X) + bias

Wait – isn’t this just a simple linear equation? Yes – and that is why we need activation functions. A linear equation will not be able to capture the complex patterns in the data – this is even more evident in the case of deep learning problems.

In order to capture non-linear relationships, we use activation functions, and that is why a neural network without an activation function is just a linear regression model.


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