ANNABELL AI Can Learn English From Scratch

A computer system called ANNABELL (Artificial Neural Network with Adaptive Behavior Exploited for Language Learning) was able to communicate through human language from a totally blank starting point.The cognitive model is made up of two million interconnected artificial neurons, developed by researchers from the University of Sassari and the University of Plymouth.

ANNABELL is still a computer, and computers work through programs with coded rules that they must follow in order to perform a given task. However, ANNABELL is unique because it doesn’t have pre-coded language knowledge. It learns only through communication with a human interlocutor. To achieve this, the researchers made use of two mechanisms that are also present in biological brains. Namely, they used synaptic plasticity and neural gating.

Synaptic plasticity is the ability of two neurons to increase their connection efficiency when they are active simultaneously, or nearly simultaneously. This is essential for learning and for long-term memory. Meanwhile, neural gating is based on the properties of certain neurons (called bistable neurons) to switch themselves “on” or “off” due to a control signal coming from other neurons. When on, the bistable neurons transmit the signal from a part of the brain to another, otherwise they block it.

As ANNABELL has a mimicked version of synaptic plasticity, it is able to learn to control the signals that open and close the neural gates, so as to control the flow of information among different areas. ANNABELL has been validated using a database of about 1500 input sentences, based on literature on early language development. It has responded by producing a total of about 500 sentences in output, containing nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, and other word classes, demonstrating the ability to express a wide range of capabilities in human language processing.

Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein created a computer that (who?) woke up in the classic 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress:

They kept hooking hardware into him - decision-action boxes to let him boss other computers, bank on bank of additional memories, more banks of associational neural nets, another tubful of twelve-digit random numbers, a greatly augmented temporary memory. Human brain has around ten-to-the-tenth neurons. By third year Mike had better than one and a half times that many neuristors....

...Mike had voder/vocoder circuits supplementing his read-outs, print-outs, and decision-action boxes, and could understand not only classic programming but also Loglan and English, and could accept other languages and was doing technical translating - and reading endlessly. But in giving him instructions it was safer to use LogLan. If you spoke English, results might be whimsical; multi-valued nature of English gave option circuits too much leeway.

The earliest reference that I know about is the artificial, inorganic artificial brain from Edmond Hamilton's 1926 story The Metal Giants:

No doubt it was a startling proposition, to construct an artificial brain that would possess consciousness, memory, reasoning power...

...Detmold had attacked the problem from a different standpoint. It was his theory that the sensations of the nervous system are flashed to the brain as electric currents, or vibrations, and that it was the action of these vibratory currents on the brain-stuff that caused consciousness and thought. Thus, instead of trying to make simple, living cells and from them work up the complicated structure of the brain, he had constructed an organ, a brain, of metal, entirely inorganic and lifeless, yet whose atomic structure he claimed was analogous to the atomic structure of a living brain. He had then applied countless different electrical vibrations to this metallic brain-stuff, and finally announced that under vibrations of certain frequencies the organ had showed faint signs of consciousness.

Via Futurism.

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