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Learning to solve complex tasks by growing knowledge culturally across generations
Michael Tessler · Jason Madeano · Pedro Tsividis · Noah Goodman · Josh Tenenbaum
Event URL: https://openreview.net/forum?id=hlDl6hJZVxs »

Knowledge built culturally across generations allows humans to learn far more than an individual could glean from their own experience in a lifetime. Cultural knowledge in turn rests on language: language is the richest record of what previous generations believed, valued, and practiced, and how these evolved over time. The power and mechanisms of language as a means of cultural learning, however, are not well understood, and as a result, current AI systems do not leverage language as a means for cultural knowledge transmission. Here, we take a first step towards reverse-engineering cultural learning through language. We developed a suite of complex tasks in the form of minimalist-style video games, which we deployed in an iterated learning paradigm. Human participants were limited to only two attempts (two lives) to beat each game and were allowed to write a message to a future participant who read the message before playing. Knowledge accumulated gradually across generations, allowing later generations to advance further in the games and perform more efficient actions. Multigenerational learning followed a strikingly similar trajectory to individuals learning alone with an unlimited number of lives. Successive generations of learners were able to succeed by expressing distinct types of knowledge in natural language: the dynamics of the environment, valuable goals, dangerous risks, and strategies for success. The video game paradigm we pioneer here is thus a rich test bed for developing AI systems capable of acquiring and transmitting cultural knowledge.

Author Information

Michael Tessler (DeepMind)
Jason Madeano (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Pedro Tsividis
Noah Goodman (Stanford University)
Josh Tenenbaum (MIT)

Josh Tenenbaum is an Associate Professor of Computational Cognitive Science at MIT in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). He received his PhD from MIT in 1999, and was an Assistant Professor at Stanford University from 1999 to 2002. He studies learning and inference in humans and machines, with the twin goals of understanding human intelligence in computational terms and bringing computers closer to human capacities. He focuses on problems of inductive generalization from limited data -- learning concepts and word meanings, inferring causal relations or goals -- and learning abstract knowledge that supports these inductive leaps in the form of probabilistic generative models or 'intuitive theories'. He has also developed several novel machine learning methods inspired by human learning and perception, most notably Isomap, an approach to unsupervised learning of nonlinear manifolds in high-dimensional data. He has been Associate Editor for the journal Cognitive Science, has been active on program committees for the CogSci and NIPS conferences, and has co-organized a number of workshops, tutorials and summer schools in human and machine learning. Several of his papers have received outstanding paper awards or best student paper awards at the IEEE Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR), NIPS, and Cognitive Science conferences. He is the recipient of the New Investigator Award from the Society for Mathematical Psychology (2005), the Early Investigator Award from the Society of Experimental Psychologists (2007), and the Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology (in the area of cognition and human learning) from the American Psychological Association (2008).

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