New preprint: "Linguistic Distributional Knowledge and Sensorimotor Grounding both Contribute to Semantic Category Production"

My colleagues Briony Banks, Louise Connell and I recently submitted a paper reporting research we've been doing at Lancaster University over the last year.

Needless to say, the Covid-19 lockdowns in the UK have been a substantial impediment to this work, so it's really good to see it finally complete.

A figure taken from the paper preprint.  The computational model has two components, "linguistic" and "sensorimotor". The linguistic component is illustrated by colour spreading through a network of connected concepts ("animal", "husbandry", "horse", "cow", etc.). The sensorimotor component is illustrated with bubbles of colour growing and popping, creating new circles as they meet new points in the space ("animal", "cat", "rain", etc.). In the centre, the list of all concepts reached in either component are listed.
Schematic illustration of the computational model operating for an example category.

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Ed Brayton

I was sad to hear of the death of Ed Brayton a few days ago.  He was a humanist and secular community leader, blogger, journalist and board member for the Center for Inquiry, Michigan.  Following a long battle with illness, he checked himself into hospice care, and died comfortably a few days later.

I think I first heard Ed Brayton in 2008 when he appeared as a guest on an episode of Reginald Finley's The Infidel Guy Show, which I listened to regularly while at university.

For the 12 years since then I've read Ed's blog and listened to his radio shows and podcasts.  I was delighted a couple of years ago when he returned to the airwaves with a new podcast, for which he had plans, though the most recent episodes are marked by his deteriorating health.  Unfortunately, the podcast has already lapsed from the web, so I will add what I have of it to the archive of Ed's other shows I have hosted. Throughout the time I followed him, Ed's staunch commitment to his humanist values, and rejection of tribalism, were an inspiration.  And when online atheism took an ugly turn in the last few years, Ed continued to find and highlight the good.

While I didn't know Ed personally, I always appreciated his words, and am sad that he is gone.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Check out this amazing video of Bob Hoskins clowning around on a blue-screen stage to do the Toon Town scene of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  Early blue-screen cinema, I guess, so he doesn't even really have props or sight guides to play off against.

I can't remember where I saw this, possibly Important If True, back when that was a thing.

New preprint: "Understanding the role of linguistic distributional knowledge in cognition"

I have recently submitted a paper based on some work I have been doing at my job at the Embodied Cognition Lab at Lancaster University. In it, we look at a large set of linguistic distributional models commonly used in cognitive psychology, evaluating each on a benchmark behavioural dataset.

Linguistic distributional models are computer models of knowledge, which learn representations of words and their associations from statistical regularities in huge collections of natural language text, such as databases of TV subtitles. The idea is that, just like people, these algorithms can learn something about the meanings of words by only observing how they are used, rather than through direct experience of their referents. To the degree that they do, they can then be used to model the kind of knowledge which people could gain in the same way. These models can be made to perform various tasks which rely on language, or predict how humans will perform these tasks under experimental conditions, and in this way we can evaluate them as models of human semantic memory.

We show, perhaps unsurprisingly*, that different kinds of models are better or worse at capturing different aspects of human semantic processes.

A preprint of the report is available on Psyarxiv.


*unsurprising to you as you read this, perhaps, but actually this is the largest systematic comparison of models as-yet undertaken, and thereby the first to actually effectively weigh the evidence on this question.