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Human spatiotemporal pattern learning as probabilistic program synthesis
Tracey Mills · Josh Tenenbaum · Samuel Cheyette

Wed Dec 13 08:45 AM -- 10:45 AM (PST) @ Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 #407

People are adept at learning a wide variety of structured patterns from small amounts of data, presenting a conundrum from the standpoint of the bias-variance tradeoff: what kinds of representations and algorithms support the joint flexibility and data-paucity of human learning? One possibility is that people "learn by programming": inducing probabilistic models to fit observed data. Here, we experimentally test human learning in the domain of structured 2-dimensional patterns, using a task in which participants repeatedly predicted where a dot would move based on its previous trajectory. We evaluate human performance against standard parametric and non-parametric time-series models, as well as two Bayesian program synthesis models whose hypotheses vary in their degree of structure: a compositional Gaussian Process model and a structured "Language of Thought" (LoT) model. We find that signatures of human pattern learning are best explained by the LoT model, supporting the idea that the flexibility and data-efficiency of human structure learning can be understood as probabilistic inference over an expressive space of programs.

Author Information

Tracey Mills (MIT)
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).

Samuel Cheyette (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

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