Characterizing tradeoffs between teaching via language and demonstrations in multi-agent systems

Dhara Yu, Noah D. Goodman, Jesse Mu

Humans teach others about the world through language and demonstration. When might one of these modalities be more effective than the other? In this work, we study the factors that modulate the effectiveness of language vs. demonstration using multi-agent systems to model human communication. Specifically, we train neural network agents to teach via language or demonstration in a grounded communication task, manipulating 1) the inherent difficulty of the task and 2) the competence of the teacher. We find that teaching by demonstration is more effective in the simplest settings, but language is more effective as task difficulty increases, due to its ability to generalize more effectively to unseen scenarios. Overall, these results provide converging evidence for a tradeoff between language and demonstration as teaching modalities in humans, and make the novel predictions that demonstration may be optimal for easy tasks, while language enables generalization in more challenging settings.

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