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Title: Evolving communication through the inference of meaning
Author: Smith, Andrew D. M.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2003
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In this thesis, I address the problem of how successful communication systems can emerge between agents who do not have innate or explicitly transferable meanings, cannot read the minds of their interlocutors, and are not provided with any feedback about the communication process. I develop a solution by focusing on the role of meanings within the framework of language evolution, and on communication through the repeated inference of meaning. Much recent work on the evolution of language has concentrated on the emergence of compositional syntax as the crucial event which marked the genesis of language; all the experimental models which purport to demonstrate the emergence of syntax, however, rely on models of communication in which the signals are redundant and which contain pre-defined, structured meaning systems which provide an explicit blueprint against which the syntactic structure is built. Moreover, the vast majority of such meaning systems are truly semantic in name only, lacking even the basic semantic characteristics of sense and reference, and the agents must rely on mind-reading or feedback (or both) in order to learn how to communicate. By contrast, at the heart of this thesis is a solution to the signal redundancy paradox based on the inference of meaning and the disambiguation of potential referents through exposure in multiple contexts. I describe computational models of meaning creation in which agents independently develop individual conceptual structures based on their own experiences of the environment, and show through experimental simulations that the agents can use their own individual meanings to communicate with each other about items in their environment. I demonstrate that the development of successful communication depends to a large extent on the synchronisation of the agents' conceptual structures, and that such synchronisation is significantly more likely to occur when the agents use an intelligent meaning creation strategy which can exploit the structure in the information in the environment. Motivated by research into the acquisition of language by children, I go on to explore how the introduction of specific cognitive and lexical biases affects the level of communicative success. I show that if the agents are guided by an assumption of mutual exclusivity in word meanings, they do not need to have such high levels of meaning similarity, and can instead communicate successfully despite having very divergent conceptual structures.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available