Human Active Learning

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 21 (NIPS 2008)

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Rui Castro, Charles Kalish, Robert Nowak, Ruichen Qian, Tim Rogers, Jerry Zhu


We investigate a topic at the interface of machine learning and cognitive science. Human active learning, where learners can actively query the world for information, is contrasted with passive learning from random examples. Furthermore, we compare human active learning performance with predictions from statistical learning theory. We conduct a series of human category learning experiments inspired by a machine learning task for which active and passive learning error bounds are well understood, and dramatically distinct. Our results indicate that humans are capable of actively selecting informative queries, and in doing so learn better and faster than if they are given random training data, as predicted by learning theory. However, the improvement over passive learning is not as dramatic as that achieved by machine active learning algorithms. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first quantitative study comparing human category learning in active versus passive settings.