Khatri, Chandra, Hedayatnia, Behnam, Venkatesh, Anu, Nunn, Jeff, Pan, Yi, Liu, Qing, Song, Han, Gottardi, Anna, Kwatra, Sanjeev, Pancholi, Sanju, Cheng, Ming, Chen, Qinglang, Stubel, Lauren, Gopalakrishnan, Karthik, Bland, Kate, Gabriel, Raefer, Mandal, Arindam, Hakkani-Tur, Dilek, Hwang, Gene, Michel, Nate, King, Eric, Prasad, Rohit
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.
To build Sounding Board, we develop a system architecture that is capable of accommodating dialog strategies that we designed for socialbot conversations. The architecture consists of a multi-dimensional language understanding module for analyzing user utterances, a hierarchical dialog management framework for dialog context tracking and complex dialog control, and a language generation process that realizes the response plan and makes adjustments for speech synthesis. Additionally, we construct a new knowledge base to power the socialbot by collecting social chat content from a variety of sources. An important contribution of the system is the synergy between the knowledge base and the dialog management, i.e., the use of a graph structure to organize the knowledge base that makes dialog control very efficient in bringing related content to the discussion. Using the data collected from Sounding Board during the competition, we carry out in-depth analyses of socialbot conversations and user ratings which provide valuable insights in evaluation methods for socialbots. We additionally investigate a new approach for system evaluation and diagnosis that allows scoring individual dialog segments in the conversation. Finally, observing that socialbots suffer from the issue of shallow conversations about topics associated with unstructured data, we study the problem of enabling extended socialbot conversations grounded on a document. To bring together machine reading and dialog control techniques, a graph-based document representation is proposed, together with methods for automatically constructing the graph. Using the graph-based representation, dialog control can be carried out by retrieving nodes or moving along edges in the graph. To illustrate the usage, a mixed-initiative dialog strategy is designed for socialbot conversations on news articles.
Encoder-decoder based neural architectures serve as the basis of state-of-the-art approaches in end-to-end open domain dialog systems. Since most of such systems are trained with a maximum likelihood(MLE) objective they suffer from issues such as lack of generalizability and the generic response problem, i.e., a system response that can be an answer to a large number of user utterances, e.g., "Maybe, I don't know." Having explicit feedback on the relevance and interestingness of a system response at each turn can be a useful signal for mitigating such issues and improving system quality by selecting responses from different approaches. Towards this goal, we present a system that evaluates chatbot responses at each dialog turn for coherence and engagement. Our system provides explicit turn-level dialog quality feedback, which we show to be highly correlated with human evaluation. To show that incorporating this feedback in the neural response generation models improves dialog quality, we present two different and complementary mechanisms to incorporate explicit feedback into a neural response generation model: reranking and direct modification of the loss function during training. Our studies show that a response generation model that incorporates these combined feedback mechanisms produce more engaging and coherent responses in an open-domain spoken dialog setting, significantly improving the response quality using both automatic and human evaluation.
Conversational AI is becoming an integral part of business practice across industries. More companies are adopting the advantages chatbots bring to customer service, sales, and marketing. Even though chatbots are becoming a "must-have" asset for leading businesses, their performance is still very far from human. Researchers from major research institutions and tech leaders have explored ways to boost the performance of dialog systems by increasing the diversity of their responses, enabling emotion recognition, improving their ability to track long-term aspects of the conversation, ensuring the maintenance of a consistent persona, etc. We've searched through important conversational AI research papers published in 2019 to present you the top 10 that set the new state-of-the-art in both task-oriented and open-domain dialog systems. Subscribe to our AI Research mailing list at the bottom of this article to be alerted when we release new summaries.
We present Sounding Board, a social chatbot that won the 2017 Amazon Alexa Prize. The system architecture consists of several components including spoken language processing, dialogue management, language generation, and content management, with emphasis on user-centric and content-driven design. We also share insights gained from large-scale online logs based on 160,000 conversations with real-world users.