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In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Language is crucial for human intelligence, but what exactly is its role? We take language to be a part of a system for understanding and communicating about situations. In humans, these abilities emerge gradually from experience and depend on domain-general principles of biological neural networks: connection-based learning, distributed representation, and context-sensitive, mutual constraint satisfaction-based processing. Current artificial language processing systems rely on the same domain general principles, embodied in artificial neural networks. Indeed, recent progress in this field depends on query-based attention, which extends the ability of these systems to exploit context and has contributed to remarkable breakthroughs. Nevertheless, most current models focus exclusively on language-internal tasks, limiting their ability to perform tasks that depend on understanding situations. These systems also lack memory for the contents of prior situations outside of a fixed contextual span. We describe the organization of the brain's distributed understanding system, which includes a fast learning system that addresses the memory problem. We sketch a framework for future models of understanding drawing equally on cognitive neuroscience and artificial intelligence and exploiting query-based attention. We highlight relevant current directions and consider further developments needed to fully capture human-level language understanding in a computational system.

McClelland James L, Hill Felix, Rudolph Maja, Baldridge Jason, Sch├╝tze Hinrich


artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience, deep learning, natural language understanding, situation models