Towards Learning to Speak and Hear Through Multi-Agent Communication over a Continuous Acoustic Channel

4 Nov 2021  ·  Kevin Eloff, Arnu Pretorius, Okko Räsänen, Herman A. Engelbrecht, Herman Kamper ·

While multi-agent reinforcement learning has been used as an effective means to study emergent communication between agents, existing work has focused almost exclusively on communication with discrete symbols. Human communication often takes place (and emerged) over a continuous acoustic channel; human infants acquire language in large part through continuous signalling with their caregivers. We therefore ask: Are we able to observe emergent language between agents with a continuous communication channel trained through reinforcement learning? And if so, what is the impact of channel characteristics on the emerging language? We propose an environment and training methodology to serve as a means to carry out an initial exploration of these questions. We use a simple messaging environment where a "speaker" agent needs to convey a concept to a "listener". The Speaker is equipped with a vocoder that maps symbols to a continuous waveform, this is passed over a lossy continuous channel, and the Listener needs to map the continuous signal to the concept. Using deep Q-learning, we show that basic compositionality emerges in the learned language representations. We find that noise is essential in the communication channel when conveying unseen concept combinations. And we show that we can ground the emergent communication by introducing a caregiver predisposed to "hearing" or "speaking" English. Finally, we describe how our platform serves as a starting point for future work that uses a combination of deep reinforcement learning and multi-agent systems to study our questions of continuous signalling in language learning and emergence.

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