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Workshop: Human in the Loop Learning (HiLL) Workshop at NeurIPS 2022

Neural-Symbolic Recursive Machine for Systematic Generalization

Qing Li · Yixin Zhu · Yitao Liang · Ying Nian Wu · Song-Chun Zhu · Siyuan Huang


Despite the tremendous success, existing machine learning models still fall short of human-like systematic generalization—learning compositional rules from limited data and applying them to unseen combinations in various domains. We propose Neural-Symbolic Recursive Machine (NSR) to tackle this deficiency. The core representation of NSR is a Grounded Symbol System (GSS) with combina- torial syntax and semantics, which entirely emerges from training data. Akin to the neuroscience studies suggesting separate brain systems for perceptual, syntactic, and semantic processing, NSR implements analogous separate modules of neural perception, syntactic parsing, and semantic reasoning, which are jointly learned by a deduction-abduction algorithm. We prove that NSR is expressive enough to model various sequence-to-sequence tasks. Superior systematic generalization is achieved via the inductive biases of equivariance and recursiveness embedded in NSR. In experiments, NSR achieves state-of-the-art performance in three benchmarks from different domains: SCAN for semantic parsing, PCFG for string manipulation, and HINT for arithmetic reasoning. Specifically, NSR achieves 100% generalization accuracy on SCAN and PCFG and outperforms state-of-the-art models on HINT by about 23%. Our NSR demonstrates stronger generalization than pure neural networks due to its symbolic representation and inductive biases. NSR also demonstrates better transferability than existing neural-symbolic approaches due to less domain-specific knowledge required.

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