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  1. Recent reinforcement learning (RL) approaches have shown strong performance in complex domains such as Atari games, but are often highly sample inefficient. A common approach to reduce interaction time with the environment is to use reward shaping, which involves carefully designing reward functions that provide the agent intermediate rewards for progress towards the goal. However, designing appropriate shaping rewards is known to be difficult as well as time-consuming. In this work, we address this problem by using natural language instructions to perform reward shaping. We propose the LanguagE-Action Reward Network (LEARN), a framework that maps free-form natural language instructions to intermediate rewards based on actions taken by the agent. These intermediate language-based rewards can seamlessly be integrated into any standard reinforcement learning algorithm. We experiment with Montezuma’s Revenge from the Atari Learning Environment, a popular benchmark in RL. Our experiments on a diverse set of 15 tasks demonstrate that, for the same number of interactions with the environment, language-based rewards lead to successful completion of the task 60 % more often on average, compared to learning without language.
  2. Active learning identifies data points to label that are expected to be the most useful in improving a supervised model. Opportunistic active learning incorporates active learning into interactive tasks that constrain possible queries during interactions. Prior work has shown that opportunistic active learning can be used to improve grounding of natural language descriptions in an interactive object retrieval task. In this work, we use reinforcement learning for such an object retrieval task, to learn a policy that effectively trades off task completion with model improvement that would benefit future tasks.
  3. A major goal of grounded language learning research is to enable robots to connect language predicates to a robot’s physical interactive perception of the world. Coupling object exploratory behaviors such as grasping, lifting, and looking with multiple sensory modalities (e.g., audio, haptics, and vision) enables a robot to ground non-visual words like “heavy” as well as visual words like “red”. A major limitation of existing approaches to multi-modal language grounding is that a robot has to exhaustively explore training objects with a variety of actions when learning a new such language predicate. This paper proposes a method for guiding a robot’s behavioral exploration policy when learning a novel predicate based on known grounded predicates and the novel predicate’s linguistic relationship to them. We demonstrate our approach on two datasets in which a robot explored large sets of objects and was tasked with learning to recognize whether novel words applied to those objects.
  4. Speech is a natural channel for human-computer interaction in robotics and consumer applications. Natural language understanding pipelines that start with speech can have trouble recovering from speech recognition errors. Black-box automatic speech recognition (ASR) systems, built for general purpose use, are unable to take advantage of in-domain language models that could otherwise ameliorate these errors. In this work, we present a method for re-ranking black-box ASR hypotheses using an in-domain language model and semantic parser trained for a particular task. Our re-ranking method significantly improves both transcription accuracy and semantic understanding over a state-of-the-art ASR’s vanilla output.
  5. A word in natural language can be polysemous, having multiple meanings, as well as synonymous, meaning the same thing as other words. Word sense induction attempts to find the senses of pol- ysemous words. Synonymy detection attempts to find when two words are interchangeable. We com- bine these tasks, first inducing word senses and then detecting similar senses to form word-sense synonym sets (synsets) in an unsupervised fashion. Given pairs of images and text with noun phrase labels, we perform synset induction to produce col- lections of underlying concepts described by one or more noun phrases. We find that considering multi- modal features from both visual and textual context yields better induced synsets than using either con- text alone. Human evaluations show that our unsu- pervised, multi-modally induced synsets are com- parable in quality to annotation-assisted ImageNet synsets, achieving about 84% of ImageNet synsets’ approval.
  6. Active learning identifies data points from a pool of unlabeled examples whose labels, if made available, are most likely to improve the predictions of a supervised model. Most research on active learning assumes that an agent has access to the entire pool of unlabeled data and can ask for labels of any data points during an initial training phase. However, when incorporated in a larger task, an agent may only be able to query some subset of the unlabeled pool. An agent can also opportunistically query for labels that may be useful in the future, even if they are not immediately relevant. In this paper, we demonstrate that this type of opportunistic active learning can improve performance in grounding natural language descriptions of everyday objects---an important skill for home and office robots. We find, with a real robot in an object identification setting, that inquisitive behavior---asking users important questions about the meanings of words that may be off-topic for the current dialog---leads to identifying the correct object more often over time.
  7. Natural language understanding and dia- log management are two integral compo- nents of interactive dialog systems. Pre- vious research has used machine learning techniques to individually optimize these components, with different forms of direct and indirect supervision. We present an approach to integrate the learning of both a dialog strategy using reinforcement learn- ing, and a semantic parser for robust nat- ural language understanding, using only natural dialog interaction for supervision. Experimental results on a simulated task of robot instruction demonstrate that joint learning of both components improves di- alog performance over learning either of these components alone.