Object Representations for Learning and Reasoning

Thirty-fourth Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS)

December 11, 2020, Virtual Workshop

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Emergence of compositional abstractions in human collaborative assembly

  • William P McCarthy, Robert Hawkins, Cameron Holdaway, and Judy Fan
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Many real-world tasks require agents to coordinate their behavior to achieve shared goals. Here we investigate how humans use natural language to collaboratively solve physical assembly problems more effectively over time. Human participants were paired up in an online environment to reconstruct scenes containing a pair of block towers. One participant, who could see the target towers, sent assembly instructions to the other participant, who aimed to reconstruct them as accurately as possible. We found that participants provided increasingly concise instructions across repeated attempts on each pair of towers, reflecting the use of more abstract referring expressions that captured the hierarchical structure of each scene (i.e.,tower-level expressions subsuming block-level ones). Moreover, our data suggest that different pairs of participants converged on different expressions, suggesting that multiple viable solutions exist for mapping tokens of natural language to object configurations. Taken together, our paper presents an empirical paradigm, human dataset, and set of evaluation metrics that can be used to guide the development of artificial agents that emulate human-like compositionality and abstraction.