Using Dialogue Acts in dialogue strategy learning: optimising repair strategies
A Spoken Dialogue System's (SDS's) dialogue strategy specifies which action it will take depending on its representation of the current dialogue context. Designing it by hand involves anticipating how users will interact with the system, and/or repeated testing and refining, and so can be a difficult, time-consuming task. Since SDSs inevitably make understanding errors, a particularly important issue is how to design ``repair strategies'', the parts of the dialogue strategy which attempt to get the dialogue ``back-on-track'' following these errors. To try to produce better dialogue strategies with less time and effort, previous researchers have modelled a dialogue strategy as a sequential decision problem called a Markov Decision Process (MDP), and then applied Reinforcement Learning (RL) algorithms to example training dialogues to generate dialogue strategies automatically. More recent research has used training dialogues conducted with simulated rather than real users and learned which action to take in all dialogue contexts, (a ``full'' as opposed to a ``partial'' dialogue strategy) - simulated users allow more training dialogues to be generated, and the exploration of new dialogue contexts not present in an original dataset. As yet however, limited insight has been provided as to which dialogue contextual features are important to include in the MDP and why. Indeed, a full dialogue strategy has not been learned from training dialogues with a realistic probabilistic user simulation derived from real user data, and then shown to work well with real users. This thesis investigates the value of adding new linguistically-motivated contextual features to the MDP when using RL to learn full dialogue strategies for SDSs. These new features are recent Dialogue Acts (DAs). DAs indicate the role or intention of an utterance in a dialogue e.g. ``provide-information'', an utterance being a complete unit of a speaker's speech, often bounded by silence. An accurate probabilistic user simulation learned from real user data is used for generating training dialogues, and the recent DAs are shown to improve performance in testing in simulation and with real users. With real users, performance is also better than other competing learned and hand-crafted strategies. Analysis of the strategies, and further simulation experiments show how the DAs improve performance through better repair strategies. The main findings are expected to apply to SDSs in general - indeed our strategies are learned and tested on real users in different domains, (flight-booking versus tourist information). Comparisons are also made to recent research which focuses on handling understanding errors in SDSs, but which does not use RL or user simulations.
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