Artificial Intelligence
5 mins

Episodic memory in AI

Episodic memory is the capacity to recall specific occurrences. Incorporating this human-like ability to recall past experiences can enhance AI performance and create adaptable, context-aware AI systems.


Episodic memory plays a crucial role in the cognitive abilities of humans and animals alike. It enables us to remember and learn from specific events and experiences in our lives, thus contributing to our decision-making processes. The incorporation of episodic memory in artificial intelligence (AI) systems can open up new possibilities for creating more human-like, adaptable, and context-aware AI applications.

What is Episodic Memory ?

Episodic Memory focuses on the recall of specific events or sequences for more context-aware decision-making (which can also contribute to learning).

This is different to Replay memory which systematically revisits and reprocesses past experiences to improve learning.

Understanding Episodic Memory

Episodic memory refers to the ability to recall and mentally relive specific events or episodes from one's past. It encompasses the what, where, and when of an experience, providing a rich, multidimensional representation of an event. This type of memory helps us build a coherent narrative of our lives, allowing us to learn from our past experiences and adapt our behavior accordingly.

The best way to understand episodic memory is with an example. Lets assume that every morning you notice a young man jogging with his golden retriever. Then one day, you see a lady, who resembles the man, running with the same dog. By storing these events as distinct episodes in your mind, you can quickly make a series of inferences, constructing a complex narrative about these individuals:

  • It's possible that the man and the woman share a living space or are part of the same family.
  • The lady could be the young man's mother or sister, or perhaps another relative with a close connection.
  • The young man and the lady might have a friendly agreement to look after the dog, and they share the responsibility of taking it for daily jogs.
  • The lady might have stepped in to fulfill his routine because he's unwell, preoccupied, or perhaps even out of town.

This is a simple concept for humans but a very difficult concept for AI.

Importance of Episodic Memory in AI

Incorporating episodic memory into AI systems can lead to more human-like intelligence and a better understanding of context. It lets AI remember past experiences and use that information to make better decisions in the future. With episodic memory, AI becomes more adaptable and flexible, allowing it to handle new situations more effectively. Plus, it helps AI learn from past experiences and apply that knowledge to new challenges, improving its problem-solving and prediction abilities.

Why AI Struggles with Episodic Memory

AI systems, particularly traditional machine learning models, often struggle with episodic memory. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Lack of context: AI models typically process data as discrete inputs, lacking the ability to understand the broader context of an event or experience. This makes it difficult for them to store and retrieve information about past experiences in a meaningful way.
  2. Generalisation: While AI models excel at identifying patterns and making predictions based on data, they struggle to generalise their knowledge to new, unseen situations. This limits their capacity to learn from past experiences and apply that knowledge to novel problems.
  3. Temporal relationships: Episodic memory involves understanding the temporal relationships between events, which can be challenging for AI models to represent and process. Most AI systems do not inherently capture the order or timing of events, making it difficult for them to reason about causal relationships and sequences.
  4. Memory storage and retrieval: AI systems often require large amounts of data and computational resources to store and retrieve information. This can make it difficult to implement episodic memory in a scalable and efficient manner.

However, researchers are making progress in overcoming these challenges. Deep learning techniques, such as recurrent neural networks (RNNs) and transformers, have shown promise in handling temporal relationships and context. Moreover, advancements in memory-augmented neural networks and reinforcement learning are helping AI systems learn from past experiences and adapt to new situations. These developments are gradually bringing AI closer to mimicking human-like episodic memory.

Startups Leveraging AI Episodic Memory

Several startups are exploring the potential of AI episodic memory to create advanced applications and services. One such startup is Twenty Billion Neurons (20BN), which uses episodic memory to develop AI models for human action understanding in video data. Their AI systems can recognize and interpret complex human behavior in real-world scenarios, with potential applications in healthcare, smart homes, and retail.

Another startup, Cognaisent, focuses on integrating episodic memory in AI-driven conversational agents. By incorporating episodic memory, their chatbots can recall previous interactions with users and provide more context-aware, personalised, and engaging experiences. This approach enhances customer service by making chatbot interactions feel more natural and human-like.


The integration of episodic memory into AI systems offers a promising avenue for enhancing their adaptability, contextual understanding, and overall performance. By learning from past experiences and using that knowledge to inform future actions, AI can become more human-like in its decision-making processes. Startups like 20BN and Cognaisent are leading the way in leveraging episodic memory for AI, creating innovative applications and services that can profoundly impact various industries. As research and development in this area continue to advance, we can expect to witness even more sophisticated AI systems capable of learning from their experiences and adapting to new situations, much like humans do.  

April 21, 2023

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