Symbol emergence in robotics: A survey

Tadahiro Taniguchi*, Takayuki Nagai, Tomoaki Nakamura, Naoto Iwahashi, Tetsuya Ogata, Hideki Asoh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Citations (Scopus)


Humans can learn a language through physical interaction with their environment and semiotic communication with other people. It is very important to obtain a computational understanding of how humans can form symbol systems and obtain semiotic skills through their autonomous mental development. Recently, many studies have been conducted regarding the construction of robotic systems and machine learning methods that can learn a language through embodied multimodal interaction with their environment and other systems. Understanding human?-social interactions and developing a robot that can smoothly communicate with human users in the long term require an understanding of the dynamics of symbol systems. The embodied cognition and social interaction of participants gradually alter a symbol system in a constructive manner. In this paper, we introduce a field of research called symbol emergence in robotics (SER). SER represents a constructive approach towards a symbol emergence system. The symbol emergence system is socially self-organized through both semiotic communications and physical interactions with autonomous cognitive developmental agents, i.e. humans and developmental robots. In this paper, specifically, we describe some state-of-art research topics concerning SER, such as multimodal categorization, word discovery, and double articulation analysis. They enable robots to discover words and their embodied meanings from raw sensory-motor information, including visual information, haptic information, auditory information, and acoustic speech signals, in a totally unsupervised manner. Finally, we suggest future directions for research in SER.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)706-728
Number of pages23
JournalAdvanced Robotics
Issue number11-12
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Jun 17


  • Developmental robotics
  • Language acquisition
  • Semiotics
  • Symbol emergence
  • Symbol grounding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Computer Science Applications


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