Proceedings of the 2018 EMNLP Workshop SCAI: The 2nd International Workshop on Search-Oriented Conversational AI

Aleksandr Chuklin, Jeff Dalton, Julia Kiseleva, Alexey Borisov, Mikhail Burtsev (Editors)

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Brussels, Belgium
Association for Computational Linguistics
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Proceedings of the 2018 EMNLP Workshop SCAI: The 2nd International Workshop on Search-Oriented Conversational AI
Aleksandr Chuklin | Jeff Dalton | Julia Kiseleva | Alexey Borisov | Mikhail Burtsev

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Neural Response Ranking for Social Conversation: A Data-Efficient Approach
Igor Shalyminov | Ondřej Dušek | Oliver Lemon

The overall objective of ‘social’ dialogue systems is to support engaging, entertaining, and lengthy conversations on a wide variety of topics, including social chit-chat. Apart from raw dialogue data, user-provided ratings are the most common signal used to train such systems to produce engaging responses. In this paper we show that social dialogue systems can be trained effectively from raw unannotated data. Using a dataset of real conversations collected in the 2017 Alexa Prize challenge, we developed a neural ranker for selecting ‘good’ system responses to user utterances, i.e. responses which are likely to lead to long and engaging conversations. We show that (1) our neural ranker consistently outperforms several strong baselines when trained to optimise for user ratings; (2) when trained on larger amounts of data and only using conversation length as the objective, the ranker performs better than the one trained using ratings – ultimately reaching a Precision@1 of 0.87. This advance will make data collection for social conversational agents simpler and less expensive in the future.

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Autonomous Sub-domain Modeling for Dialogue Policy with Hierarchical Deep Reinforcement Learning
Giovanni Yoko Kristianto | Huiwen Zhang | Bin Tong | Makoto Iwayama | Yoshiyuki Kobayashi

Solving composites tasks, which consist of several inherent sub-tasks, remains a challenge in the research area of dialogue. Current studies have tackled this issue by manually decomposing the composite tasks into several sub-domains. However, much human effort is inevitable. This paper proposes a dialogue framework that autonomously models meaningful sub-domains and learns the policy over them. Our experiments show that our framework outperforms the baseline without subdomains by 11% in terms of success rate, and is competitive with that with manually defined sub-domains.

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Building Dialogue Structure from Discourse Tree of a Question
Boris Galitsky | Dmitry Ilvovsky

In this section we propose a reasoning-based approach to a dialogue management for a customer support chat bot. To build a dialogue scenario, we analyze the discourse tree (DT) of an initial query of a customer support dialogue that is frequently complex and multi-sentence. We then enforce rhetorical agreement between DT of the initial query and that of the answers, requests and responses. The chat bot finds answers, which are not only relevant by topic but also suitable for a given step of a conversation and match the question by style, communication means, experience level and other domain-independent attributes. We evaluate a performance of proposed algorithm in car repair domain and observe a 5 to 10% improvement for single and three-step dialogues respectively, in comparison with baseline approaches to dialogue management.

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A Methodology for Evaluating Interaction Strategies of Task-Oriented Conversational Agents
Marco Guerini | Sara Falcone | Bernardo Magnini

In task-oriented conversational agents, more attention has been usually devoted to assessing task effectiveness, rather than to how the task is achieved. However, conversational agents are moving towards more complex and human-like interaction capabilities (e.g. the ability to use a formal/informal register, to show an empathetic behavior), for which standard evaluation methodologies may not suffice. In this paper, we provide a novel methodology to assess - in a completely controlled way - the impact on the quality of experience of agent’s interaction strategies. The methodology is based on a within subject design, where two slightly different transcripts of the same interaction with a conversational agent are presented to the user. Through a series of pilot experiments we prove that this methodology allows fast and cheap experimentation/evaluation, focusing on aspects that are overlooked by current methods.

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A Reinforcement Learning-driven Translation Model for Search-Oriented Conversational Systems
Wafa Aissa | Laure Soulier | Ludovic Denoyer

Search-oriented conversational systems rely on information needs expressed in natural language (NL). We focus here on the understanding of NL expressions for building keyword-based queries. We propose a reinforcement-learning-driven translation model framework able to 1) learn the translation from NL expressions to queries in a supervised way, and, 2) to overcome the lack of large-scale dataset by framing the translation model as a word selection approach and injecting relevance feedback as a reward in the learning process. Experiments are carried out on two TREC datasets. We outline the effectiveness of our approach.

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Research Challenges in Building a Voice-based Artificial Personal Shopper - Position Paper
Nut Limsopatham | Oleg Rokhlenko | David Carmel

Recent advances in automatic speech recognition lead toward enabling a voice conversation between a human user and an intelligent virtual assistant. This provides a potential foundation for developing artificial personal shoppers for e-commerce websites, such as Alibaba, Amazon, and eBay. Personal shoppers are valuable to the on-line shops as they enhance user engagement and trust by promptly dealing with customers’ questions and concerns. Developing an artificial personal shopper requires the agent to leverage knowledge about the customer and products, while interacting with the customer in a human-like conversation. In this position paper, we motivate and describe the artificial personal shopper task, and then address a research agenda for this task by adapting and advancing existing information retrieval and natural language processing technologies.

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Curriculum Learning Based on Reward Sparseness for Deep Reinforcement Learning of Task Completion Dialogue Management
Atsushi Saito

Learning from sparse and delayed reward is a central issue in reinforcement learning. In this paper, to tackle reward sparseness problem of task oriented dialogue management, we propose a curriculum based approach on the number of slots of user goals. This curriculum makes it possible to learn dialogue management for sets of user goals with large number of slots. We also propose a dialogue policy based on progressive neural networks whose modules with parameters are appended with previous parameters fixed as the curriculum proceeds, and this policy improves performances over the one with single set of parameters.

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Data Augmentation for Neural Online Chats Response Selection
Wenchao Du | Alan Black

Data augmentation seeks to manipulate the available data for training to improve the generalization ability of models. We investigate two data augmentation proxies, permutation and flipping, for neural dialog response selection task on various models over multiple datasets, including both Chinese and English languages. Different from standard data augmentation techniques, our method combines the original and synthesized data for prediction. Empirical results show that our approach can gain 1 to 3 recall-at-1 points over baseline models in both full-scale and small-scale settings.

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A Knowledge-Grounded Multimodal Search-Based Conversational Agent
Shubham Agarwal | Ondřej Dušek | Ioannis Konstas | Verena Rieser

Multimodal search-based dialogue is a challenging new task: It extends visually grounded question answering systems into multi-turn conversations with access to an external database. We address this new challenge by learning a neural response generation system from the recently released Multimodal Dialogue (MMD) dataset (Saha et al., 2017). We introduce a knowledge-grounded multimodal conversational model where an encoded knowledge base (KB) representation is appended to the decoder input. Our model substantially outperforms strong baselines in terms of text-based similarity measures (over 9 BLEU points, 3 of which are solely due to the use of additional information from the KB).

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Embedding Individual Table Columns for Resilient SQL Chatbots
Bojan Petrovski | Ignacio Aguado | Andreea Hossmann | Michael Baeriswyl | Claudiu Musat

Most of the world’s data is stored in relational databases. Accessing these requires specialized knowledge of the Structured Query Language (SQL), putting them out of the reach of many people. A recent research thread in Natural Language Processing (NLP) aims to alleviate this problem by automatically translating natural language questions into SQL queries. While the proposed solutions are a great start, they lack robustness and do not easily generalize: the methods require high quality descriptions of the database table columns, and the most widely used training dataset, WikiSQL, is heavily biased towards using those descriptions as part of the questions. In this work, we propose solutions to both problems: we entirely eliminate the need for column descriptions, by relying solely on their contents, and we augment the WikiSQL dataset by paraphrasing column names to reduce bias. We show that the accuracy of existing methods drops when trained on our augmented, column-agnostic dataset, and that our own method reaches state of the art accuracy, while relying on column contents only.

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Exploring Named Entity Recognition As an Auxiliary Task for Slot Filling in Conversational Language Understanding
Samuel Louvan | Bernardo Magnini

Slot filling is a crucial task in the Natural Language Understanding (NLU) component of a dialogue system. Most approaches for this task rely solely on the domain-specific datasets for training. We propose a joint model of slot filling and Named Entity Recognition (NER) in a multi-task learning (MTL) setup. Our experiments on three slot filling datasets show that using NER as an auxiliary task improves slot filling performance and achieve competitive performance compared with state-of-the-art. In particular, NER is effective when supervised at the lower layer of the model. For low-resource scenarios, we found that MTL is effective for one dataset.

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Why are Sequence-to-Sequence Models So Dull? Understanding the Low-Diversity Problem of Chatbots
Shaojie Jiang | Maarten de Rijke

Diversity is a long-studied topic in information retrieval that usually refers to the requirement that retrieved results should be non-repetitive and cover different aspects. In a conversational setting, an additional dimension of diversity matters: an engaging response generation system should be able to output responses that are diverse and interesting. Sequence-to-sequence (Seq2Seq) models have been shown to be very effective for response generation. However, dialogue responses generated by Seq2Seq models tend to have low diversity. In this paper, we review known sources and existing approaches to this low-diversity problem. We also identify a source of low diversity that has been little studied so far, namely model over-confidence. We sketch several directions for tackling model over-confidence and, hence, the low-diversity problem, including confidence penalties and label smoothing.

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Retrieve and Refine: Improved Sequence Generation Models For Dialogue
Jason Weston | Emily Dinan | Alexander Miller

Sequence generation models for dialogue are known to have several problems: they tend to produce short, generic sentences that are uninformative and unengaging. Retrieval models on the other hand can surface interesting responses, but are restricted to the given retrieval set leading to erroneous replies that cannot be tuned to the specific context. In this work we develop a model that combines the two approaches to avoid both their deficiencies: first retrieve a response and then refine it – the final sequence generator treating the retrieval as additional context. We show on the recent ConvAI2 challenge task our approach produces responses superior to both standard retrieval and generation models in human evaluations.