AI Seminar

Toyota AI Seminar: Sharks attack humans, but most sharks don't attack humans: Learning to express generalizations in language

Susan GelmanProfessorUniversity of Michigan, Psychology

My talk will examine the challenges that learners face when learning to express general categories (e.g., "sharks" in "sharks attack humans" ). These expressions, known as "generics" , are both conceptually and linguistically challenging. Although we experience the world in terms of individual objects and events, we must form abstractions that extend beyond these individual entities. Moreover, the same forms of language that are used to express generics are also used to refer to particular individuals (compare "the dog is a 4-legged animal" to "the dog is sleeping" ). I discuss different kinds of learning models, and suggest that generics are a default mode of generalization for human learners.
I earned my Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford University in 1984 and joined the faculty of the University of Michigan, where I am currently the Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of Psychology. My research interests focus on concept and language development in young children. I am interested in how children organize their experiences into categories, children’s early theories of the world around them (particularly their emerging biological theories), children’s “essentialist” beliefs, children’s understanding of causality, and the role of language in expressing and conveying children’s concepts. I have published 6 books and monographs and over 150 articles and chapters, including The Essential Child (Oxford, 2003), which won the Eleanor E. Maccoby book prize of APA Division 7 and the 2005 book prize of the Cognitive Development Society. I received the APA Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology in the Developmental Area, the American Psychological Foundation Robert L. Fantz Award, the Chase Memorial Award, the Boyd McCandless Young Scientist Award from APA Division 7, and a J. S. Guggenheim Fellowship. I have served on the editorial boards of several journals, served on the APA Committee on Scientific Awards, and am currently a member of the Cognition and Perception Study Section of NIH. I have been elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, APS, and the Cognitive Science Society.

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