A brief consideration of the kinds of solutions offered to the binding
problem suffices to make clear the uniformity of solutions to this
representational problem. We begin with Figure 1,
which offers a
symbolic representation of ABOVE in which the relation term
is represented by an explicit symbol, that is, the sequence of
characters A, B, O, V, E. Binding is implemented by assigning particular
positions in the representation to the roles of the relation and then
by inserting representations of objects into these positions. This is
the approach used in standard predicate-calculus notation:
*Above (Book, Table)*.

Halford et al halfordetal:94 have proposed a connectionist version of the same kind of representation. We illustrate this in Figure 2: The relation term and the related objects are all activation vectors. They are fed into separate banks of units, places in the network, each of which is dedicated to representing a particular component. The tensor product of these three vectors (for a binary relation) is computed to complete the binding process.

Another solution to the binding problem involves pairing the objects with explicitly labeled role names (slots) rather than with places. A symbolic version of a slot-filler representation is illustrated in Figure 3. Here objects and roles are paired by concatenating the role-name symbol and the object symbol. One connectionist version of a slot-filler representation has been offered by Smolensky smolensky:90. For each role-filler pair, a role-name vector and an object vector are fed into banks of role and filler units respectively and the tensor product of these vectors is calculated. Note that the relation term may be left out if it is completely specified by the role names; e.g., in place of ABOVE we have ABOVE-HIGHER and ABOVE-LOWER. This approach is illustrated in Figure 4.

In other connectionist approaches, separate role and filler units are somehow marked as belonging together rather than being placed on special purpose banks of units. In this approach, each unit in the network has an associated value (as well as an activation). When this value matches the value of another unit, they are bound together. In the dynamic binding approach [Hummel BiedermanHummel Biederman1992,Hummel HolyoakHummel Holyoak1997,Shastri AjjanagaddeShastri Ajjanagadde1993,Sporns, Gally, Reeke EdelmanSporns 1989], units ``fire'' at particular times, and units whose firings are synchronized are considered bound. This localist approach is illustrated in Figure 5.

Even if not reducible one to the other, all of these ways of representing relations comprise a highly similar class. Table 1 summarizes the various approaches. All assume that the specification of how the objects in a relation are related is by explicitly labeling them as being in that relation. But where does this labeling come from? How do labeled representations interface with perception and actions on objects such that the experience of a particular book and particular table manages to engage the BOOK ABOVE TABLE representation? In all of the proposals about relational representation, the relations are just there, presumed a priori abstractions. This might be acceptable if there were a universal set of innate relations hardwired some way into biology. But the developmental and cross-language evidence on this point is clear: relations are learned. Their course of development is protracted and highly influenced by language learning.

Relation term | Bindings | ||

Predicate calculus | Symbol | Symbols in argument positions | |

Symbolic | Slot-filler | Symbol | Role symbol + filler symbol |

Argument style | Vector | Tensor product of relation and filler vectors | |

Connectionist | Distributed, explicit role | (Implicit in bindings) | Sum of tensor product of role and filler vectors |

Localist | Unit | Role and filler units, synchronized |