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Learning and development in neural networks: The importance of starting small

Summary: Learning and development in neural networks:
The importance of starting small
Jeffrey L. Elman
Departments of Cognitive Science and Linguistics
University of California, San Diego
Humans differ from other species along many dimensions, but two are particularly note-
worthy. Humans display an exceptional capacity to learn; and humans are remarkable for the un-
usually long time it takes to reach maturity. The adaptive advantage of learning is clear, and it may
be argued that, through culture, learning has created the basis for a non-genetically based transmis-
sion of behaviors which may accelerate the evolution of our species. The adaptive consequences
of lengthy development, on the other hand, seem to be purely negative. Infancy and childhood are
times of great vulnerability for the young, and severely restrict the range of activities of the adults
who must care for and protect their young. It is difficult to understand why evolutionary pressures
would not therefore prune a long period of immaturity from our species.
It is important to remember, however, that evolution selects for the fitness of whole indi-
viduals, not for the value of isolated traits such as an enhanced ability to learn or the duration of
infancy. The adaptive success of individuals is determined by the joint interaction of all their traits.
So it may be that to understand the perseverance of one trait with apparently negative consequences
(such as a lengthy period of immaturity), we need to consider possible interactions with other traits


Source: Alishahi, Afra - Department of Computational Linguistics and Phonetics, Universitšt des Saarlandes
Plaut, David C. - Department of Psychology and School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Collections: Computer Technologies and Information Sciences