Self-Organization of Early Vocal Development in Infants and Machines: The Role of Intrinsic Motivation

Moulin-Frier, Clément and Nguyen, Sao Mai and Oudeyer, Pierre-Yves

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We bridge the gap between two issues in infant development: vocal development and intrinsic motivation. We propose and experimentally test the hypothesis that general mechanisms of intrinsically motivated spontaneous exploration, also called curiosity-driven learning, can self-organize developmental stages during early vocal learning. We introduce a computational model of intrinsically motivated vocal exploration, which allows the learner to autonomously structure its own vocal experiments, and thus its own learning schedule, through a drive to maximize competence progress. This model relies on a physical model of the vocal tract, the auditory system and the agent’s motor control as well as vocalizations of social peers. We present computational experiments that show how such a mechanism can explain the adaptive transition from vocal self-exploration with little influence from the speech environment, to a later stage where vocal exploration becomes influenced by vocalizations of peers. Within the initial self-exploration phase, we show that a sequence of vocal production stages self-organizes, and shares properties with data from infant developmental psychology: the vocal learner first discovers how to control phonation, then focuses on vocal variations of unarticulated sounds, and finally automatically discovers and focuses on babbling with articulated proto-syllables. As the vocal learner becomes more proficient at producing complex sounds, imitating vocalizations of peers starts to provide high learning progress explaining an automatic shift from self-exploration to vocal imitation.


  title = {Self-Organization of Early Vocal Development in Infants and Machines: The Role of Intrinsic Motivation},
  author = {Moulin-Frier, Clément and Nguyen, Sao Mai and Oudeyer, Pierre-Yves},
  journal = {Frontiers in Psychology (Cognitive Science)},
  year = {2013},
  number = {1006},
  volume = {4},
  doi = {10.3389/fpsyg.2013.01006},
  issn = {1664-1078},
  url = {},
  hal_id = {hal-00927940}