Abstract Frank Foerster June25 2018

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Title: Learning to Say `No’: From Toddlers to Robots and Back

Abstract: In this talk, I will present two experiments from my Ph.D. work where we tried to shed light on the origin of linguistic negation. Methodologically we combined developmental robotics with language-wise unconstrained human-robot interaction. Research on early child language development indicates that the first productive negative words of toddlers are linked to affect. This observation led us to extend symbol grounding, the linkage of linguistic symbols with sensorimotor data, to include motivation values originating from a very simple motivation system of a humanoid robot. In a single-blind experimental setup, naive participants were asked to act as language teachers for a child-like humanoid robot for several successive sessions. Starting linguistically from scratch the robot slowly acquired words from the human partner's speech. Two important mechanisms in this scenario that we observed in terms of negation are so-called intent interpretations and linguistic prohibition. Where maternal prohibition has been explicitly hypothesized as an origin for the earliest forms of human negation, the notion of intent interpretations is suspiciously absent from contemporary theories on language acquisition. With intent interpretations we refer to the apparent tendency of humans in a conversationally asymmetric setup to describe or phrase the motivational state of a conversationally less competent partner.

About Frank Förster: Frank is a Research Fellow in the Adaptive Systems Research Group at the University of Hertfordshire since the end of 2015 and also did his PhD research there. Prior to returning to the group Frank worked as postdoc and software integrator at the MMV group in EECS at QMUL.