Dialogue policy optimisation via reinforcement learning requires a large number of training interactions, which makes learning with real users time consuming and expensive. Many set-ups therefore rely on a user simulator instead of humans. These user simulators have their own problems. While hand-coded, rule-based user simulators have been shown to be sufficient in small, simple domains, for complex domains the number of rules quickly becomes intractable. State-of-the-art data-driven user simulators, on the other hand, are still domain-dependent. This means that adaptation to each new domain requires redesigning and retraining. In this work, we propose a domain-independent transformer-based user simulator (TUS). The structure of TUS is not tied to a specific domain, enabling domain generalization and the learning of cross-domain user behaviour from data. We compare TUS with the state-of-the-art using automatic as well as human evaluations. TUS can compete with rule-based user simulators on pre-defined domains and is able to generalize to unseen domains in a zero-shot fashion.
The ability to identify and resolve uncertainty is crucial for the robustness of a dialogue system. Indeed, this has been confirmed empirically on systems that utilise Bayesian approaches to dialogue belief tracking. However, such systems consider only confidence estimates and have difficulty scaling to more complex settings. Neural dialogue systems, on the other hand, rarely take uncertainties into account. They are therefore overconfident in their decisions and less robust. Moreover, the performance of the tracking task is often evaluated in isolation, without consideration of its effect on the downstream policy optimisation. We propose the use of different uncertainty measures in neural belief tracking. The effects of these measures on the downstream task of policy optimisation are evaluated by adding selected measures of uncertainty to the feature space of the policy and training policies through interaction with a user simulator. Both human and simulated user results show that incorporating these measures leads to improvements both of the performance and of the robustness of the downstream dialogue policy. This highlights the importance of developing neural dialogue belief trackers that take uncertainty into account.