Chinnadhurai Sankar


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Database Search Results Disambiguation for Task-Oriented Dialog Systems
Kun Qian | Satwik Kottur | Ahmad Beirami | Shahin Shayandeh | Paul Crook | Alborz Geramifard | Zhou Yu | Chinnadhurai Sankar
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies

As task-oriented dialog systems are becoming increasingly popular in our lives, more realistic tasks have been proposed and explored. However, new practical challenges arise. For instance, current dialog systems cannot effectively handle multiplesearch results when querying a database, due to the lack of such scenarios in existing public datasets. In this paper, we propose Database Search Result (DSR) Disambiguation, a novel task that focuses on disambiguating database search results, which enhances user experience by allowing them to choose from multiple options instead of just one. To study this task, we augment the popular task-oriented dialog datasets (MultiWOZ and SGD) with turns that resolve ambiguities by (a) synthetically generating turns through a pre-defined grammar, and (b) collecting human paraphrases for a subset. We find that training on our augmented dialog data improves the model’s ability to deal with ambiguous scenarios, without sacrificing performance on unmodified turns. Furthermore, pre-fine tuning and multi-task learning help our model to improve performance on DSR-disambiguation even in the absence of in-domain data, suggesting that it can be learned as a universal dialog skill. Our data and code will be made publicly available.

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KETOD: Knowledge-Enriched Task-Oriented Dialogue
Zhiyu Chen | Bing Liu | Seungwhan Moon | Chinnadhurai Sankar | Paul Crook | William Yang Wang
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: NAACL 2022

Existing studies in dialogue system research mostly treat task-oriented dialogue and chit-chat as separate domains. Towards building a human-like assistant that can converse naturally and seamlessly with users, it is important to build a dialogue system that conducts both types of conversations effectively. In this work, we investigate how task-oriented dialogue and knowledge-grounded chit-chat can be effectively integrated into a single model. To this end, we create a new dataset, KETOD (Knowledge-Enriched Task-Oriented Dialogue), where we naturally enrich task-oriented dialogues with chit-chat based on relevant entity knowledge. We also propose two new models, SimpleToDPlus and Combiner, for the proposed task. Experimental results on both automatic and human evaluations show that the proposed methods can significantly improve the performance in knowledge-enriched response generation while maintaining a competitive task-oriented dialog performance. We believe our new dataset will be a valuable resource for future studies. Our dataset and code are publicly available at

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Know Thy Strengths: Comprehensive Dialogue State Tracking Diagnostics
Hyundong Cho | Chinnadhurai Sankar | Christopher Lin | Kaushik Sadagopan | Shahin Shayandeh | Asli Celikyilmaz | Jonathan May | Ahmad Beirami
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2022

Recent works that revealed the vulnerability of dialogue state tracking (DST) models to distributional shifts have made holistic comparisons on robustness and qualitative analyses increasingly important for understanding their relative performance. We present our findings from standardized and comprehensive DST diagnoses, which have previously been sparse and uncoordinated, using our toolkit, CheckDST, a collection of robustness tests and failure mode analytics. We discover that different classes of DST models have clear strengths and weaknesses, where generation models are more promising for handling language variety while span-based classification models are more robust to unseen entities. Prompted by this discovery, we also compare checkpoints from the same model and find that the standard practice of selecting checkpoints using validation loss/accuracy is prone to overfitting and each model class has distinct patterns of failure. Lastly, we demonstrate how our diagnoses motivate a pre-finetuning procedure with non-dialogue data that offers comprehensive improvements to generation models by alleviating the impact of distributional shifts through transfer learning.


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ProFormer: Towards On-Device LSH Projection Based Transformers
Chinnadhurai Sankar | Sujith Ravi | Zornitsa Kozareva
Proceedings of the 16th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Main Volume

At the heart of text based neural models lay word representations, which are powerful but occupy a lot of memory making it challenging to deploy to devices with memory constraints such as mobile phones, watches and IoT. To surmount these challenges, we introduce ProFormer – a projection based transformer architecture that is faster and lighter making it suitable to deploy to memory constraint devices and preserve user privacy. We use LSH projection layer to dynamically generate word representations on-the-fly without embedding lookup tables leading to significant memory footprint reduction from O(V.d) to O(T), where V is the vocabulary size, d is the embedding dimension size and T is the dimension of the LSH projection representation. We also propose a local projection attention (LPA) layer, which uses self-attention to transform the input sequence of N LSH word projections into a sequence of N/K representations reducing the computations quadratically by O(Kˆ2). We evaluate ProFormer on multiple text classification tasks and observed improvements over prior state-of-the-art on-device approaches for short text classification and comparable performance for long text classification tasks. ProFormer is also competitive with other popular but highly resource-intensive approaches like BERT and even outperforms small-sized BERT variants with significant resource savings – reduces the embedding memory footprint from 92.16 MB to 1.7 KB and requires 16x less computation overhead, which is very impressive making it the fastest and smallest on-device model.

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On-Device Text Representations Robust To Misspellings via Projections
Chinnadhurai Sankar | Sujith Ravi | Zornitsa Kozareva
Proceedings of the 16th Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Main Volume

Recently, there has been a strong interest in developing natural language applications that live on personal devices such as mobile phones, watches and IoT with the objective to preserve user privacy and have low memory. Advances in Locality-Sensitive Hashing (LSH)-based projection networks have demonstrated state-of-the-art performance in various classification tasks without explicit word (or word-piece) embedding lookup tables by computing on-the-fly text representations. In this paper, we show that the projection based neural classifiers are inherently robust to misspellings and perturbations of the input text. We empirically demonstrate that the LSH projection based classifiers are more robust to common misspellings compared to BiLSTMs (with both word-piece & word-only tokenization) and fine-tuned BERT based methods. When subject to misspelling attacks, LSH projection based classifiers had a small average accuracy drop of 2.94% across multiple classifications tasks, while the fine-tuned BERT model accuracy had a significant drop of 11.44%.

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DialogStitch: Synthetic Deeper and Multi-Context Task-Oriented Dialogs
Satwik Kottur | Chinnadhurai Sankar | Zhou Yu | Alborz Geramifard
Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Special Interest Group on Discourse and Dialogue

Real-world conversational agents must effectively handle long conversations that span multiple contexts. Such context can be interspersed with chitchat (dialog turns not directly related to the task at hand), and potentially grounded in a multimodal setting. While prior work focused on the above aspects in isolation, there is a lack of a unified framework that studies them together. To overcome this, we propose DialogStitch, a novel framework to seamlessly ‘stitch’ multiple conversations and highlight these desirable traits in a taskoriented dialog. After stitching, our dialogs are provably deeper, contain longer-term dependencies, and span multiple contexts, when compared with the source dialogs—all free of cost without any additional annotations! Though our framework generalizes to a variety of combinations, we demonstrate its benefits in two settings: (a) multimodal, imagegrounded conversations, and, (b) task-oriented dialogs fused with chit-chat conversations. We benchmark state-of-the-art dialog models on our datasets and find accuracy drops of (a) 12% and (b) 45% respectively, indicating the additional challenges in the stitched dialogs. Our code and data are publicly available.

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Annotation Inconsistency and Entity Bias in MultiWOZ
Kun Qian | Ahmad Beirami | Zhouhan Lin | Ankita De | Alborz Geramifard | Zhou Yu | Chinnadhurai Sankar
Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Special Interest Group on Discourse and Dialogue

MultiWOZ (Budzianowski et al., 2018) is one of the most popular multi-domain taskoriented dialog datasets, containing 10K+ annotated dialogs covering eight domains. It has been widely accepted as a benchmark for various dialog tasks, e.g., dialog state tracking (DST), natural language generation (NLG) and end-to-end (E2E) dialog modeling. In this work, we identify an overlooked issue with dialog state annotation inconsistencies in the dataset, where a slot type is tagged inconsistently across similar dialogs leading to confusion for DST modeling. We propose an automated correction for this issue, which is present in 70% of the dialogs. Additionally, we notice that there is significant entity bias in the dataset (e.g., “cambridge” appears in 50% of the destination cities in the train domain). The entity bias can potentially lead to named entity memorization in generative models, which may go unnoticed as the test set suffers from a similar entity bias as well. We release a new test set with all entities replaced with unseen entities. Finally, we benchmark joint goal accuracy (JGA) of the state-of-theart DST baselines on these modified versions of the data. Our experiments show that the annotation inconsistency corrections lead to 7-10% improvement in JGA. On the other hand, we observe a 29% drop in JGA when models are evaluated on the new test set with unseen entities.

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DVD: A Diagnostic Dataset for Multi-step Reasoning in Video Grounded Dialogue
Hung Le | Chinnadhurai Sankar | Seungwhan Moon | Ahmad Beirami | Alborz Geramifard | Satwik Kottur
Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics and the 11th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (Volume 1: Long Papers)

A video-grounded dialogue system is required to understand both dialogue, which contains semantic dependencies from turn to turn, and video, which contains visual cues of spatial and temporal scene variations. Building such dialogue systems is a challenging problem, involving various reasoning types on both visual and language inputs. Existing benchmarks do not have enough annotations to thoroughly analyze dialogue systems and understand their capabilities and limitations in isolation. These benchmarks are also not explicitly designed to minimise biases that models can exploit without actual reasoning. To address these limitations, in this paper, we present DVD, a Diagnostic Dataset for Video-grounded Dialogue. The dataset is designed to contain minimal biases and has detailed annotations for the different types of reasoning over the spatio-temporal space of video. Dialogues are synthesized over multiple question turns, each of which is injected with a set of cross-turn semantic relationships. We use DVD to analyze existing approaches, providing interesting insights into their abilities and limitations. In total, DVD is built from 11k CATER synthetic videos and contains 10 instances of 10-round dialogues for each video, resulting in more than 100k dialogues and 1M question-answer pairs. Our code and dataset are publicly available.


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Do Neural Dialog Systems Use the Conversation History Effectively? An Empirical Study
Chinnadhurai Sankar | Sandeep Subramanian | Chris Pal | Sarath Chandar | Yoshua Bengio
Proceedings of the 57th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics

Neural generative models have been become increasingly popular when building conversational agents. They offer flexibility, can be easily adapted to new domains, and require minimal domain engineering. A common criticism of these systems is that they seldom understand or use the available dialog history effectively. In this paper, we take an empirical approach to understanding how these models use the available dialog history by studying the sensitivity of the models to artificially introduced unnatural changes or perturbations to their context at test time. We experiment with 10 different types of perturbations on 4 multi-turn dialog datasets and find that commonly used neural dialog architectures like recurrent and transformer-based seq2seq models are rarely sensitive to most perturbations such as missing or reordering utterances, shuffling words, etc. Also, by open-sourcing our code, we believe that it will serve as a useful diagnostic tool for evaluating dialog systems in the future.

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Deep Reinforcement Learning For Modeling Chit-Chat Dialog With Discrete Attributes
Chinnadhurai Sankar | Sujith Ravi
Proceedings of the 20th Annual SIGdial Meeting on Discourse and Dialogue

Open domain dialog systems face the challenge of being repetitive and producing generic responses. In this paper, we demonstrate that by conditioning the response generation on interpretable discrete dialog attributes and composed attributes, it helps improve the model perplexity and results in diverse and interesting non-redundant responses. We propose to formulate the dialog attribute prediction as a reinforcement learning (RL) problem and use policy gradients methods to optimize utterance generation using long-term rewards. Unlike existing RL approaches which formulate the token prediction as a policy, our method reduces the complexity of the policy optimization by limiting the action space to dialog attributes, thereby making the policy optimization more practical and sample efficient. We demonstrate this with experimental and human evaluations.

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Taskmaster-1: Toward a Realistic and Diverse Dialog Dataset
Bill Byrne | Karthik Krishnamoorthi | Chinnadhurai Sankar | Arvind Neelakantan | Ben Goodrich | Daniel Duckworth | Semih Yavuz | Amit Dubey | Kyu-Young Kim | Andy Cedilnik
Proceedings of the 2019 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and the 9th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (EMNLP-IJCNLP)

A significant barrier to progress in data-driven approaches to building dialog systems is the lack of high quality, goal-oriented conversational data. To help satisfy this elementary requirement, we introduce the initial release of the Taskmaster-1 dataset which includes 13,215 task-based dialogs comprising six domains. Two procedures were used to create this collection, each with unique advantages. The first involves a two-person, spoken “Wizard of Oz” (WOz) approach in which trained agents and crowdsourced workers interact to complete the task while the second is “self-dialog” in which crowdsourced workers write the entire dialog themselves. We do not restrict the workers to detailed scripts or to a small knowledge base and hence we observe that our dataset contains more realistic and diverse conversations in comparison to existing datasets. We offer several baseline models including state of the art neural seq2seq architectures with benchmark performance as well as qualitative human evaluations. Dialogs are labeled with API calls and arguments, a simple and cost effective approach which avoids the requirement of complex annotation schema. The layer of abstraction between the dialog model and the service provider API allows for a given model to interact with multiple services that provide similar functionally. Finally, the dataset will evoke interest in written vs. spoken language, discourse patterns, error handling and other linguistic phenomena related to dialog system research, development and design.

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Transferable Neural Projection Representations
Chinnadhurai Sankar | Sujith Ravi | Zornitsa Kozareva
Proceedings of the 2019 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies, Volume 1 (Long and Short Papers)

Neural word representations are at the core of many state-of-the-art natural language processing models. A widely used approach is to pre-train, store and look up word or character embedding matrices. While useful, such representations occupy huge memory making it hard to deploy on-device and often do not generalize to unknown words due to vocabulary pruning. In this paper, we propose a skip-gram based architecture coupled with Locality-Sensitive Hashing (LSH) projections to learn efficient dynamically computable representations. Our model does not need to store lookup tables as representations are computed on-the-fly and require low memory footprint. The representations can be trained in an unsupervised fashion and can be easily transferred to other NLP tasks. For qualitative evaluation, we analyze the nearest neighbors of the word representations and discover semantically similar words even with misspellings. For quantitative evaluation, we plug our transferable projections into a simple LSTM and run it on multiple NLP tasks and show how our transferable projections achieve better performance compared to prior work.