Collaborating Authors

A Deep Reinforcement Learning Chatbot (Short Version) Machine Learning

We present MILABOT: a deep reinforcement learning chatbot developed by the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) for the Amazon Alexa Prize competition. MILABOT is capable of conversing with humans on popular small talk topics through both speech and text. The system consists of an ensemble of natural language generation and retrieval models, including neural network and template-based models. By applying reinforcement learning to crowdsourced data and real-world user interactions, the system has been trained to select an appropriate response from the models in its ensemble. The system has been evaluated through A/B testing with real-world users, where it performed significantly better than other systems. The results highlight the potential of coupling ensemble systems with deep reinforcement learning as a fruitful path for developing real-world, open-domain conversational agents.

The Bottleneck Simulator: A Model-based Deep Reinforcement Learning Approach Machine Learning

Deep reinforcement learning has recently shown many impressive successes. However, one major obstacle towards applying such methods to real-world problems is their lack of data-efficiency. To this end, we propose the Bottleneck Simulator: a model-based reinforcement learning method which combines a learned, factorized transition model of the environment with rollout simulations to learn an effective policy from few examples. The learned transition model employs an abstract, discrete (bottleneck) state, which increases sample efficiency by reducing the number of model parameters and by exploiting structural properties of the environment. We provide a mathematical analysis of the Bottleneck Simulator in terms of fixed points of the learned policy, which reveals how performance is affected by four distinct sources of error: an error related to the abstract space structure, an error related to the transition model estimation variance, an error related to the transition model estimation bias, and an error related to the transition model class bias. Finally, we evaluate the Bottleneck Simulator on two natural language processing tasks: a text adventure game and a real-world, complex dialogue response selection task. On both tasks, the Bottleneck Simulator yields excellent performance beating competing approaches.

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

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

Hierarchical Reinforcement Learning for Open-Domain Dialog Artificial Intelligence

Open-domain dialog generation is a challenging problem; maximum likelihood training can lead to repetitive outputs, models have difficulty tracking long-term conversational goals, and training on standard movie or online datasets may lead to the generation of inappropriate, biased, or offensive text. Reinforcement Learning (RL) is a powerful framework that could potentially address these issues, for example by allowing a dialog model to optimize for reducing toxicity and repetitiveness. However, previous approaches which apply RL to open-domain dialog generation do so at the word level, making it difficult for the model to learn proper credit assignment for long-term conversational rewards. In this paper, we propose a novel approach to hierarchical reinforcement learning, VHRL, which uses policy gradients to tune the utterance-level embedding of a variational sequence model. This hierarchical approach provides greater flexibility for learning long-term, conversational rewards. We use self-play and RL to optimize for a set of human-centered conversation metrics, and show that our approach provides significant improvements -- in terms of both human evaluation and automatic metrics -- over state-of-the-art dialog models, including Transformers.