Shahin Shayandeh


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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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Soloist: Building Task Bots at Scale with Transfer Learning and Machine Teaching
Baolin Peng | Chunyuan Li | Jinchao Li | Shahin Shayandeh | Lars Liden | Jianfeng Gao
Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Volume 9

Abstract We present a new method, Soloist,1 that uses transfer learning and machine teaching to build task bots at scale. We parameterize classical modular task-oriented dialog systems using a Transformer-based auto-regressive language model, which subsumes different dialog modules into a single neural model. We pre-train, on heterogeneous dialog corpora, a task-grounded response generation model, which can generate dialog responses grounded in user goals and real-world knowledge for task completion. The pre-trained model can be efficiently adapted to accomplish new tasks with a handful of task-specific dialogs via machine teaching, where training samples are generated by human teachers interacting with the system. Experiments show that (i)Soloist creates new state-of-the-art on well-studied task-oriented dialog benchmarks, including CamRest676 and MultiWOZ; (ii) in the few-shot fine-tuning settings, Soloist significantly outperforms existing methods; and (iii) the use of machine teaching substantially reduces the labeling cost of fine-tuning. The pre-trained models and codes are available at


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Conversation Learner - A Machine Teaching Tool for Building Dialog Managers for Task-Oriented Dialog Systems
Swadheen Shukla | Lars Liden | Shahin Shayandeh | Eslam Kamal | Jinchao Li | Matt Mazzola | Thomas Park | Baolin Peng | Jianfeng Gao
Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics: System Demonstrations

Traditionally, industry solutions for building a task-oriented dialog system have relied on helping dialog authors define rule-based dialog managers, represented as dialog flows. While dialog flows are intuitively interpretable and good for simple scenarios, they fall short of performance in terms of the flexibility needed to handle complex dialogs. On the other hand, purely machine-learned models can handle complex dialogs, but they are considered to be black boxes and require large amounts of training data. In this demonstration, we showcase Conversation Learner, a machine teaching tool for building dialog managers. It combines the best of both approaches by enabling dialog authors to create a dialog flow using familiar tools, converting the dialog flow into a parametric model (e.g., neural networks), and allowing dialog authors to improve the dialog manager (i.e., the parametric model) over time by leveraging user-system dialog logs as training data through a machine teaching interface.

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Guided Dialogue Policy Learning without Adversarial Learning in the Loop
Ziming Li | Sungjin Lee | Baolin Peng | Jinchao Li | Julia Kiseleva | Maarten de Rijke | Shahin Shayandeh | Jianfeng Gao
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2020

Reinforcement learning methods have emerged as a popular choice for training an efficient and effective dialogue policy. However, these methods suffer from sparse and unstable reward signals returned by a user simulator only when a dialogue finishes. Besides, the reward signal is manually designed by human experts, which requires domain knowledge. Recently, a number of adversarial learning methods have been proposed to learn the reward function together with the dialogue policy. However, to alternatively update the dialogue policy and the reward model on the fly, we are limited to policy-gradient-based algorithms, such as REINFORCE and PPO. Moreover, the alternating training of a dialogue agent and the reward model can easily get stuck in local optima or result in mode collapse. To overcome the listed issues, we propose to decompose the adversarial training into two steps. First, we train the discriminator with an auxiliary dialogue generator and then incorporate a derived reward model into a common reinforcement learning method to guide the dialogue policy learning. This approach is applicable to both on-policy and off-policy reinforcement learning methods. Based on our extensive experimentation, we can conclude the proposed method: (1) achieves a remarkable task success rate using both on-policy and off-policy reinforcement learning methods; and (2) has potential to transfer knowledge from existing domains to a new domain.