Subgoal Discovery for Hierarchical Dialogue Policy Learning

Tang, Da, Li, Xiujun, Gao, Jianfeng, Wang, Chong, Li, Lihong, Jebara, Tony Artificial Intelligence 

Developing conversational agents to engage in complex dialogues is challenging partly because the dialogue policy needs to explore a large state-action space. In this paper, we propose a divide-and-conquer approach that discovers and exploits the hidden structure of the task to enable efficient policy learning. First, given a set of successful dialogue sessions, we present a Subgoal Discovery Network (SDN) to divide a complex goal-oriented task into a set of simpler subgoals in an unsupervised fashion. We then use these subgoals to learn a hierarchical policy which consists of 1) a top-level policy that selects among subgoals, and 2) a low-level policy that selects primitive actions to accomplish the subgoal. We exemplify our method by building a dialogue agent for the composite task of travel planning. Experiments with simulated and real users show that an agent trained with automatically discovered subgoals performs competitively against an agent with human-defined subgoals, and significantly outperforms an agent without subgoals. Moreover, we show that learned subgoals are human comprehensible.

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