Research Article

Human-level concept learning through probabilistic program induction

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Science  11 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6266, pp. 1332-1338
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab3050

Handwritten characters drawn by a model

Not only do children learn effortlessly, they do so quickly and with a remarkable ability to use what they have learned as the raw material for creating new stuff. Lake et al. describe a computational model that learns in a similar fashion and does so better than current deep learning algorithms. The model classifies, parses, and recreates handwritten characters, and can generate new letters of the alphabet that look “right” as judged by Turing-like tests of the model's output in comparison to what real humans produce.

Science, this issue p. 1332


People learning new concepts can often generalize successfully from just a single example, yet machine learning algorithms typically require tens or hundreds of examples to perform with similar accuracy. People can also use learned concepts in richer ways than conventional algorithms—for action, imagination, and explanation. We present a computational model that captures these human learning abilities for a large class of simple visual concepts: handwritten characters from the world’s alphabets. The model represents concepts as simple programs that best explain observed examples under a Bayesian criterion. On a challenging one-shot classification task, the model achieves human-level performance while outperforming recent deep learning approaches. We also present several “visual Turing tests” probing the model’s creative generalization abilities, which in many cases are indistinguishable from human behavior.

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