Generalization without Systematicity: On the Compositional Skills of Sequence-to-Sequence Recurrent Networks

International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML)


Humans can understand and produce new utterances effortlessly, thanks to their compositional skills. Once a person learns the meaning of a new verb “dax,” he or she can immediately understand the meaning of “dax twice” or “sing and dax.” In this paper, we introduce the SCAN domain, consisting of a set of simple compositional navigation commands paired with the corresponding action sequences. We then test the zero-shot generalization capabilities of a variety of recurrent neural networks (RNNs) trained on SCAN with sequence-to-sequence methods. We find that RNNs can make successful zero-shot generalizations when the differences between training and test commands are small, so that they can apply “mix-and-match” strategies to solve the task. However, when generalization requires systematic compositional skills (as in the “dax” example above), RNNs fail spectacularly. We conclude with a proof-of-concept experiment in neural machine translation, suggesting that lack of systematicity might be partially responsible for neural networks’ notorious training data thirst.

Related Publications

All Publications

IEEE TSE - February 17, 2021

Machine Learning Testing: Survey, Landscapes and Horizons

Jie M. Zhang, Mark Harman, Lei Ma, Yang Liu

AISTATS - April 13, 2021

Multi-armed Bandits with Cost Subsidy

Deeksha Sinha, Karthik Abinav Sankararaman, Abbas Kazerouni, Vashist Avadhanula

CVPR - June 1, 2021

Semi-supervised Synthesis of High-Resolution Editable Textures for 3D Humans

Bindita Chaudhuri, Nikolaos Sarafianos, Linda Shapiro, Tony Tung

NeurIPS - December 6, 2020

High-Dimensional Contextual Policy Search with Unknown Context Rewards using Bayesian Optimization

Qing Feng, Benjamin Letham, Hongzi Mao, Eytan Bakshy

To help personalize content, tailor and measure ads, and provide a safer experience, we use cookies. By clicking or navigating the site, you agree to allow our collection of information on and off Facebook through cookies. Learn more, including about available controls: Cookies Policy