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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Semantics and Pragmatics of Spatial Reference

  • Author(s): Golland, David Simon
  • Advisor(s): Klein, Dan
  • et al.
Abstract

In order for a robot to collaborate with a human to achieve a goal, the robot should be able to communicate by interpreting and generating natural language utterances. Past work has represented the meaning of natural language in terms of a given database of facts or a simple simulated environment, which simplifies the interpretation or generation process. However, the real world contains a richness and complexity missing from simple virtual environments. Databases present a distilled set of logical relations, whereas the relations in the physical world are more vague and challenging to discern.

In this thesis, we relax these restrictions by presenting models that interpret and generate utterances in a physical environment. We present a compositional model for interpreting utterances that uses a learned model of lexical semantics to ground linguistic terms into the physical world. We also present a model for generating utterances that are both informative and unambiguous. To address the challenges of communicating about a physical world, our system perceives the environment with computer vision in order to recognize objects and determine relations. We focus on the domain of spatial relations and present a novel probabilistic model that is capable of discerning the spatial relations that are present in a physical scene. We establish the functionality of our system by deploying it on a robotic platform that interacts with a human to manipulate objects in a physical environment.

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