A mathematical theory of cooperative communication

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Pei Wang, Junqi Wang, Pushpi Paranamana, Patrick Shafto


Cooperative communication plays a central role in theories of human cognition, language, development, culture, and human-robot interaction. Prior models of cooperative communication are algorithmic in nature and do not shed light on why cooperation may yield effective belief transmission and what limitations may arise due to differences between beliefs of agents. Through a connection to the theory of optimal transport, we establishing a mathematical framework for cooperative communication. We derive prior models as special cases, statistical interpretations of belief transfer plans, and proofs of robustness and instability. Computational simulations support and elaborate our theoretical results, and demonstrate fit to human behavior. The results show that cooperative communication provably enables effective, robust belief transmission which is required to explain feats of human learning and improve human-machine interaction.