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How Language Bootstraps Cognition

Luc Steels, Freie Universität Brüssel


Where do perceptually grounded categories come from? Some researchers claim that they are innate, explaining the rapid origins of such categories in children even with a poor stimulus. Others claim they are learned, explaining that categories are adapted to the environments and tasks humans encounter. This talk presents a third `ecological' approach to category formation.

I propose a system by which discrimination networks, capable to perform categorial distinctions, spontaneously grow, relatively independently of specific examples. The networks are pruned to eliminate distinctions that were not relevant in the environment. The continuous growth and pruning dynamics leads to constant adaptation and to anticipation of distinctions even if no examples were seen yet. I will show through software simulations and experiments with physical robotic agents that the ecological approach leads to an adequate categorial repertoire.

Next I will show that linguistic interaction can be a driving force to sparkle a spiraling increase in the ontological complexity of an agent. The ontology formation mechanism can be coupled to adaptive language games through which a shared lexicon spontaneously self-organises itself. Again, examples from software simulations and experiments with robotic agents are presented to demonstrate that this approach is effective.

The main conclusion is that a complex adaptive systems approach to the origins of ontologies and lexicons is possible and presents a viable alternative, both to a nativist account and to an inductive, connectionist account.

Ipke Wachsmuth, 1998-09-10