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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.


Building A User-Centric and Content-Driven Socialbot

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

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.


Tartan: A retrieval-based socialbot powered by a dynamic finite-state machine architecture

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

This paper describes the Tartan conversational agent built for the 2018 Alexa Prize Competition. Tartan is a non-goal-oriented socialbot focused around providing users with an engaging and fluent casual conversation. Tartan's key features include an emphasis on structured conversation based on flexible finite-state models and an approach focused on understanding and using conversational acts. To provide engaging conversations, Tartan blends script-like yet dynamic responses with data-based generative and retrieval models. Unique to Tartan is that our dialog manager is modeled as a dynamic Finite State Machine. To our knowledge, no other conversational agent implementation has followed this specific structure.


Sounding Board: A User-Centric and Content-Driven Social Chatbot

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

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.


Towards Coherent and Engaging Spoken Dialog Response Generation Using Automatic Conversation Evaluators

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

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.