Elements of Episodic Memory: Insights from Artificial Agents

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (forthcoming)
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Many recent AI systems take inspiration from biological episodic memory. Here, we ask how these ‘episodic-inspired’ AI systems might inform our understanding of biological episodic memory. We discuss work showing that these systems implement some key features of episodic memory whilst differing in important respects, and appear to enjoy behavioural advantages in the domains of strategic decision-making, fast learning, navigation, exploration and acting over temporal distance. We propose that these systems could be used to evaluate competing theories of episodic memory’s operations and function. However, further work is needed to validate them as models of episodic memory and isolate the contributions of their memory systems to their behaviour. More immediately, we propose that these systems have a role to play in directing episodic memory research by highlighting novel or neglected hypotheses as pursuit-worthy. In this vein, we propose that the evidence reviewed here highlights two pursuit-worthy hypotheses about episodic memory’s function: that it plays a role in planning that is independent of future-oriented simulation, and that it is adaptive in virtue of its contributions to fast learning in novel, sparse-reward environments.

Author Profiles

Alexandria Boyle
London School of Economics
Andrea Blomkvist
University of Antwerp


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