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Like a Baby: Visually Situated Neural Language Acquisition

Alexander G. Ororbia II
Ankur Mali
Matthew A. Kelly
57th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Florence, Italy (2019)


We examine the benefits of visual context in training neural language models to perform next-word prediction. A multi-modal neural architecture is introduced that outperform its equivalent trained on language alone with a 2% decrease in perplexity, even when no visual context is available at test. Fine-tuning the embeddings of a pre-trained state-of-the-art bidirectional language model (BERT) in the language modeling framework yields a 3.5% improvement. The advantage for training with visual context when testing without is robust across different languages (English, German and Spanish) and different models (GRU, LSTM, Delta-RNN, as well as those that use BERT embeddings). Thus, language models perform better when they learn like a baby, i.e, in a multi-modal environment. This finding is compatible with the theory of situated cognition: language is inseparable from its physical context.