Advancing the State of the Art in Open Domain Dialog Systems through the Alexa Prize

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Building open domain conversational systems that allow users to have engaging conversations on topics of their choice is a challenging task. Alexa Prize was launched in 2016 to tackle the problem of achieving natural, sustained, coherent and engaging open-domain dialogs. In the second iteration of the competition in 2018, university teams advanced the state of the art by using context in dialog models, leveraging knowledge graphs for language understanding, handling complex utterances, building statistical and hierarchical dialog managers, and leveraging model-driven signals from user responses. The 2018 competition also included the provision of a suite of tools and models to the competitors including the CoBot (conversational bot) toolkit, topic and dialog act detection models, conversation evaluators, and a sensitive content detection model so that the competing teams could focus on building knowledge-rich, coherent and engaging multi-turn dialog systems. This paper outlines the advances developed by the university teams as well as the Alexa Prize team to achieve the common goal of advancing the science of Conversational AI. We address several key open-ended problems such as conversational speech recognition, open domain natural language understanding, commonsense reasoning, statistical dialog management and dialog evaluation. These collaborative efforts have driven improved experiences by Alexa users to an average rating of 3.61, median duration of 2 mins 18 seconds, and average turns to 14.6, increases of 14%, 92%, 54% respectively since the launch of the 2018 competition. For conversational speech recognition, we have improved our relative Word Error Rate by 55% and our relative Entity Error Rate by 34% since the launch of the Alexa Prize. Socialbots improved in quality significantly more rapidly in 2018, in part due to the release of the CoBot toolkit, with new entrants attaining an average rating of 3.35 just 1 week into the semifinals, compared to 9 weeks in the 2017 competition.


On Evaluating and Comparing Open Domain Dialog Systems

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Conversational agents are exploding in popularity. However, much work remains in the area of non goal-oriented conversations, despite significant growth in research interest over recent years. To advance the state of the art in conversational AI, Amazon launched the Alexa Prize, a 2.5-million dollar university competition where sixteen selected university teams built conversational agents to deliver the best social conversational experience. Alexa Prize provided the academic community with the unique opportunity to perform research with a live system used by millions of users. The subjectivity associated with evaluating conversations is key element underlying the challenge of building non-goal oriented dialogue systems. In this paper, we propose a comprehensive evaluation strategy with multiple metrics designed to reduce subjectivity by selecting metrics which correlate well with human judgement. The proposed metrics provide granular analysis of the conversational agents, which is not captured in human ratings. We show that these metrics can be used as a reasonable proxy for human judgment. We provide a mechanism to unify the metrics for selecting the top performing agents, which has also been applied throughout the Alexa Prize competition. To our knowledge, to date it is the largest setting for evaluating agents with millions of conversations and hundreds of thousands of ratings from users. We believe that this work is a step towards an automatic evaluation process for conversational AIs.


Towards a Metric for Automated Conversational Dialogue System Evaluation and Improvement

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

We present "AutoJudge", an automated evaluation method for conversational dialogue systems. The method works by first generating dialogues based on self-talk, i.e. dialogue systems talking to itself. Then, it uses human ratings on these dialogues to train an automated judgement model. Our experiments show that AutoJudge correlates well with the human ratings and can be used to automatically evaluate dialogue systems, even in deployed systems. In a second part, we attempt to apply AutoJudge to improve existing systems. This works well for re-ranking a set of candidate utterances. However, our experiments show that AutoJudge cannot be applied as reward for reinforcement learning, although the metric can distinguish good from bad dialogues. We discuss potential reasons, but state here already that this is still an open question for further research.


Conversing by Reading: Contentful Neural Conversation with On-demand Machine Reading

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Although neural conversation models are effective in learning how to produce fluent responses, their primary challenge lies in knowing what to say to make the conversation contentful and non-vacuous. We present a new end-to-end approach to contentful neural conversation that jointly models response generation and on-demand machine reading. The key idea is to provide the conversation model with relevant long-form text on the fly as a source of external knowledge. The model performs QA-style reading comprehension on this text in response to each conversational turn, thereby allowing for more focused integration of external knowledge than has been possible in prior approaches. To support further research on knowledge-grounded conversation, we introduce a new large-scale conversation dataset grounded in external web pages (2.8M turns, 7.4M sentences of grounding). Both human evaluation and automated metrics show that our approach results in more contentful responses compared to a variety of previous methods, improving both the informativeness and diversity of generated output.


A Hierarchical Latent Variable Encoder-Decoder Model for Generating Dialogues

AAAI Conferences

Sequential data often possesses hierarchical structures with complex dependencies between sub-sequences, such as found between the utterances in a dialogue. To model these dependencies in a generative framework, we propose a neural network-based generative architecture, with stochastic latent variables that span a variable number of time steps. We apply the proposed model to the task of dialogue response generation and compare it with other recent neural-network architectures. We evaluate the model performance through a human evaluation study. The experiments demonstrate that our model improves upon recently proposed models and that the latent variables facilitate both the generation of meaningful, long and diverse responses and maintaining dialogue state.