A Signal-Centric Perspective on the Evolution of Symbolic Communication

Quintino Francesco Lotito, Leonardo Lucio Custode, Giovanni Iacca

The evolution of symbolic communication is a longstanding open research question in biology. While some theories suggest that it originated from sub-symbolic communication (i.e., iconic or indexical), little experimental evidence exists on how organisms can actually evolve to define a shared set of symbols with unique interpretable meaning, thus being capable of encoding and decoding discrete information. Here, we use a simple synthetic model composed of sender and receiver agents controlled by Continuous-Time Recurrent Neural Networks, which are optimized by means of neuro-evolution. We characterize signal decoding as either regression or classification, with limited and unlimited signal amplitude. First, we show how this choice affects the complexity of the evolutionary search, and leads to different levels of generalization. We then assess the effect of noise, and test the evolved signaling system in a referential game. In various settings, we observe agents evolving to share a dictionary of symbols, with each symbol spontaneously associated to a 1-D unique signal. Finally, we analyze the constellation of signals associated to the evolved signaling systems and note that in most cases these resemble a Pulse Amplitude Modulation system.

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