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How can we build machines that learn the meanings of words more like the way that human children do? I will talk about several challenges and how we are beginning to address them using sophisticated probabilistic models. Children can learn words from minimal data, often just one or a few positive examples (one-shot learning). Children learn to learn: they acquire powerful inductive biases for new word meanings in the course of learning their first words. Children can learn words for abstract concepts or types of concepts that have no little or no direct perceptual correlate. Children's language can be highly context-sensitive, with parameters of word meaning that must be computed anew for each context rather than simply stored. Children learn function words: words whose meanings are expressed purely in how they compose with the meanings of other words. Children learn whole systems of words together, in mutually constraining ways, such as color terms, number words, or spatial prepositions. Children learn word meanings that not only describe the world but can be used for reasoning, including causal and counterfactual reasoning. Bayesian learning defined over appropriately structured representations â€” hierarchical probabilistic models, generative process models, and compositional probabilistic languages â€” provides a basis for beginning to address these challenges.
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