[CogSci21] Individual vs. Joint Perception: a Pragmatic Model of Pointing as Communicative Smithian Helping


The simple gesture of pointing can greatly augment one’s ability to comprehend states of the world based on observations. It triggers additional inferences relevant to one’s task at hand. We model an agent’s update to its belief of the world based on individual observations using a partially observable Markov decision process (POMDP), a mainstream artificial intelligence (AI) model of how to act rationally according to beliefs formed through observation. On top of that, we model pointing as a communicative act between agents who have a mutual understanding that the pointed observation must be relevant and interpretable. Our model measures “relevance” by defining a Smithian Value of Information (SVI) as the utility improvement of the POMDP agent before and after receiving the pointing. We model that agents calculate SVI by using the cognitive theory of Smithian helping as a principle of coordinating separate beliefs for action prediction and action evaluation. We then import SVI into rational speech act (RSA) as the utility function of an utterance. These lead us to a pragmatic modelof pointing allowing for contextually flexible interpretations. We demonstrate the power of our Smithian pointing model by extending the Wumpus world, a classic AI task where a hunter hunts a monster with only partial observability of the world. We add another agent as a guide who can only help by marking an observation already perceived by the hunter with a pointing or not, without providing new observations or offering any instrumental help. Our results show that this severely limited and overloaded communication nevertheless significantly improves the hunters’ performance. The advantage of pointing is indeed due to a computation of relevance based on Smithian helping, as it disappears completely when the task is too difficult or too easy for the guide to help.

In Proceedings of Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society