Luc Steels

Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Engineering Sciences

Luc Steels studied linguistics at the University of Antwerp (Belgium) and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA). His main research field is Artificial Intelligence covering a wide range of intelligent abilities, including vision, robotic behavior, conceptual representations and language. In 1983 he became a professor of computer science at the University of Brussels (VUB) and in 1996 he founded the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris and became its first director. Currently he is ICREA Research Professor at the Institute for Evolutionary Biology (CSIC,UPF). Steels has been PI in a dozen large-scale European projects and more than 30 PhD theses have been granted under his direction. He has produced over 200 articles and edited 15 books directly related to his research.

Research interests

The origins and evolution of human language remains one of the most exciting unresolved puzzles of science today. The problem is even more difficult than biological evolution because there are no fossil records. Clearly social, biological and cultural evolution all have played a role but the details still allude scientific explanation. My research over the past decade has focused on developing theoretical models of language evolution. I set up experiments in which a population of robots autonomously develops their own communication systems with properties similar to human languages. We have focused on explaining the origins of color terms, spatial expressions, determiners, case grammar and agreement systems. So far these experiments use exclusively a process of cultural evolution, but through my recent affiliation with the Institute for Evolutionary Biology I now try to complete this picture by looking at the biological evolution of the cognitive foundations needed for language.

Selected publications

- Steels L 2017, 'Do languages evolve or merely change?', Journal of Neurolinguistics, Volume 43, Part B, Pages 199-203.

- Steels L 2017, 'Human language is a culturally evolving system', Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, vol. 24, 1, pp 190–193.