Reuben Feinman, Brenden M. Lake

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


People can learn rich, general-purpose conceptual representations from only raw perceptual inputs. Current machine learning approaches fall well short of these human standards, although different modeling traditions often have complementary strengths. Symbolic models can capture the compositional and causal knowledge that enables flexible generalization, but they struggle to learn from raw inputs, relying on strong abstractions and simplifying assumptions. Neural network models can learn directly from raw data, but they struggle to capture compositional and causal structure and typically must retrain to tackle new tasks. We bring together these two traditions to learn generative models of concepts that capture rich compositional and causal structure, while learning from raw data. We develop a generative neuro-symbolic (GNS) model of handwritten character concepts that uses the control flow of a probabilistic program, coupled with symbolic stroke primitives and a symbolic image renderer, to represent the causal and compositional processes by which characters are formed. The distributions of parts (strokes), and correlations between parts, are modeled with neural network subroutines, allowing the model to learn directly from raw data and express nonparametric statistical relationships. We apply our model to the Omniglot challenge of human-level concept learning, using a background set of alphabets to learn an expressive prior distribution over character drawings. In a subsequent evaluation, our GNS model uses probabilistic inference to learn rich conceptual representations from a single training image that generalize to 4 unique tasks, succeeding where previous work has fallen short.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - 2021
Event9th International Conference on Learning Representations, ICLR 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: May 3 2021May 7 2021


Conference9th International Conference on Learning Representations, ICLR 2021
CityVirtual, Online

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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