Learning physical theories from dynamical scenes

Tomer UllmanMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Andreas Stuhlm├╝llerStanford University
Noah GoodmanStanford University
Josh TenenbaumMIT


Humans acquire their most basic physical concepts early in development, but continue to enrich and expand their intuitive physics throughout life as they are exposed to more and varied dynamical environments. We introduce a hierarchical Bayesian framework to explain how people can learn physical theories across multiple timescales and levels of abstraction. In contrast to previous Bayesian models of theory acquisition, we work with more expressive probabilistic program representations suitable for learning the forces and properties that govern how objects interact in dynamic scenes unfolding over time. We compare our model and human learners on a challenging task of inferring novel physical laws in microworlds given short movies. People are generally able to perform this task and behave in line with model predictions. Yet they also make systematic errors suggestive of how a top-down Bayesian approach to learning might be complemented by a more bottom-up feature-based approximate inference scheme, to best explain theory learning at an algorithmic level.


Learning physical theories from dynamical scenes (4.2 MB)

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