How can the semantic interpretation of a formal symbol system be made intrinsic to the system, rather than just parasitic on the meanings in our heads? How can the meanings of the meaningless symbol tokens, manipulated solely on the basis of their (arbitrary) shapes, be grounded in anything but other meaningless symbols? The problem is analogous to trying to learn Chinese from a Chinese/Chinese dictionary alone. A candidate solution is sketched: Symbolic representations must be grounded bottom-up in nonsymbolic representations of two kinds: (1) "iconic representations," which are analogs of the proximal sensory projections of distal objects and events, and (2) "categorical representations," which are learned and innate feature-detectors that pick out the invariant features of object and event categories from their sensory projections. Elementary symbols are the names of these object and event categories, assigned on the basis of their (nonsymbolic) categorical representations. Higher-order (3) "symbolic representations," grounded in these elementary symbols, consist of symbol strings describing category membership relations (e.g., "An X is a Y that is Z").
Speakers: Oscar Chang, Lampros Flokas, Hod Lipson, Michael Spranger