Shutong Feng


GenTUS: Simulating User Behaviour and Language in Task-oriented Dialogues with Generative Transformers
Hsien-chin Lin | Christian Geishauser | Shutong Feng | Nurul Lubis | Carel van Niekerk | Michael Heck | Milica Gasic
Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Special Interest Group on Discourse and Dialogue

User simulators (USs) are commonly used to train task-oriented dialogue systems via reinforcement learning. The interactions often take place on semantic level for efficiency, but there is still a gap from semantic actions to natural language, which causes a mismatch between training and deployment environment. Incorporating a natural language generation (NLG) module with USs during training can partly deal with this problem. However, since the policy and NLG of USs are optimised separately, these simulated user utterances may not be natural enough in a given context. In this work, we propose a generative transformer-based user simulator (GenTUS). GenTUS consists of an encoder-decoder structure, which means it can optimise both the user policy and natural language generation jointly. GenTUS generates both semantic actions and natural language utterances, preserving interpretability and enhancing language variation. In addition, by representing the inputs and outputs as word sequences and by using a large pre-trained language model we can achieve generalisability in feature representation. We evaluate GenTUS with automatic metrics and human evaluation. Our results show that GenTUS generates more natural language and is able to transfer to an unseen ontology in a zero-shot fashion. In addition, its behaviour can be further shaped with reinforcement learning opening the door to training specialised user simulators.

Dialogue Evaluation with Offline Reinforcement Learning
Nurul Lubis | Christian Geishauser | Hsien-chin Lin | Carel van Niekerk | Michael Heck | Shutong Feng | Milica Gasic
Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Special Interest Group on Discourse and Dialogue

Task-oriented dialogue systems aim to fulfill user goals through natural language interactions. They are ideally evaluated with human users, which however is unattainable to do at every iteration of the development phase. Simulated users could be an alternative, however their development is nontrivial. Therefore, researchers resort to offline metrics on existing human-human corpora, which are more practical and easily reproducible. They are unfortunately limited in reflecting real performance of dialogue systems. BLEU for instance is poorly correlated with human judgment, and existing corpus-based metrics such as success rate overlook dialogue context mismatches. There is still a need for a reliable metric for task-oriented systems with good generalization and strong correlation with human judgements. In this paper, we propose the use of offline reinforcement learning for dialogue evaluation based on static data. Such an evaluator is typically called a critic and utilized for policy optimization. We go one step further and show that offline RL critics can be trained for any dialogue system as external evaluators, allowing dialogue performance comparisons across various types of systems. This approach has the benefit of being corpus- and model-independent, while attaining strong correlation with human judgements, which we confirm via an interactive user trial.

EmoWOZ: A Large-Scale Corpus and Labelling Scheme for Emotion Recognition in Task-Oriented Dialogue Systems
Shutong Feng | Nurul Lubis | Christian Geishauser | Hsien-chin Lin | Michael Heck | Carel van Niekerk | Milica Gasic
Proceedings of the Thirteenth Language Resources and Evaluation Conference

The ability to recognise emotions lends a conversational artificial intelligence a human touch. While emotions in chit-chat dialogues have received substantial attention, emotions in task-oriented dialogues remain largely unaddressed. This is despite emotions and dialogue success having equally important roles in a natural system. Existing emotion-annotated task-oriented corpora are limited in size, label richness, and public availability, creating a bottleneck for downstream tasks. To lay a foundation for studies on emotions in task-oriented dialogues, we introduce EmoWOZ, a large-scale manually emotion-annotated corpus of task-oriented dialogues. EmoWOZ is based on MultiWOZ, a multi-domain task-oriented dialogue dataset. It contains more than 11K dialogues with more than 83K emotion annotations of user utterances. In addition to Wizard-of-Oz dialogues from MultiWOZ, we collect human-machine dialogues within the same set of domains to sufficiently cover the space of various emotions that can happen during the lifetime of a data-driven dialogue system. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first large-scale open-source corpus of its kind. We propose a novel emotion labelling scheme, which is tailored to task-oriented dialogues. We report a set of experimental results to show the usability of this corpus for emotion recognition and state tracking in task-oriented dialogues.

Robust Dialogue State Tracking with Weak Supervision and Sparse Data
Michael Heck | Nurul Lubis | Carel van Niekerk | Shutong Feng | Christian Geishauser | Hsien-Chin Lin | Milica Gašić
Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Volume 10

Generalizing dialogue state tracking (DST) to new data is especially challenging due to the strong reliance on abundant and fine-grained supervision during training. Sample sparsity, distributional shift, and the occurrence of new concepts and topics frequently lead to severe performance degradation during inference. In this paper we propose a training strategy to build extractive DST models without the need for fine-grained manual span labels. Two novel input-level dropout methods mitigate the negative impact of sample sparsity. We propose a new model architecture with a unified encoder that supports value as well as slot independence by leveraging the attention mechanism. We combine the strengths of triple copy strategy DST and value matching to benefit from complementary predictions without violating the principle of ontology independence. Our experiments demonstrate that an extractive DST model can be trained without manual span labels. Our architecture and training strategies improve robustness towards sample sparsity, new concepts, and topics, leading to state-of-the-art performance on a range of benchmarks. We further highlight our model’s ability to effectively learn from non-dialogue data.

Dynamic Dialogue Policy for Continual Reinforcement Learning
Christian Geishauser | Carel van Niekerk | Hsien-chin Lin | Nurul Lubis | Michael Heck | Shutong Feng | Milica Gašić
Proceedings of the 29th International Conference on Computational Linguistics

Continual learning is one of the key components of human learning and a necessary requirement of artificial intelligence. As dialogue can potentially span infinitely many topics and tasks, a task-oriented dialogue system must have the capability to continually learn, dynamically adapting to new challenges while preserving the knowledge it already acquired. Despite the importance, continual reinforcement learning of the dialogue policy has remained largely unaddressed. The lack of a framework with training protocols, baseline models and suitable metrics, has so far hindered research in this direction. In this work we fill precisely this gap, enabling research in dialogue policy optimisation to go from static to dynamic learning. We provide a continual learning algorithm, baseline architectures and metrics for assessing continual learning models. Moreover, we propose the dynamic dialogue policy transformer (DDPT), a novel dynamic architecture that can integrate new knowledge seamlessly, is capable of handling large state spaces and obtains significant zero-shot performance when being exposed to unseen domains, without any growth in network parameter size. We validate the strengths of DDPT in simulation with two user simulators as well as with humans.


Uncertainty Measures in Neural Belief Tracking and the Effects on Dialogue Policy Performance
Carel van Niekerk | Andrey Malinin | Christian Geishauser | Michael Heck | Hsien-chin Lin | Nurul Lubis | Shutong Feng | Milica Gasic
Proceedings of the 2021 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

The ability to identify and resolve uncertainty is crucial for the robustness of a dialogue system. Indeed, this has been confirmed empirically on systems that utilise Bayesian approaches to dialogue belief tracking. However, such systems consider only confidence estimates and have difficulty scaling to more complex settings. Neural dialogue systems, on the other hand, rarely take uncertainties into account. They are therefore overconfident in their decisions and less robust. Moreover, the performance of the tracking task is often evaluated in isolation, without consideration of its effect on the downstream policy optimisation. We propose the use of different uncertainty measures in neural belief tracking. The effects of these measures on the downstream task of policy optimisation are evaluated by adding selected measures of uncertainty to the feature space of the policy and training policies through interaction with a user simulator. Both human and simulated user results show that incorporating these measures leads to improvements both of the performance and of the robustness of the downstream dialogue policy. This highlights the importance of developing neural dialogue belief trackers that take uncertainty into account.

Domain-independent User Simulation with Transformers for Task-oriented Dialogue Systems
Hsien-chin Lin | Nurul Lubis | Songbo Hu | Carel van Niekerk | Christian Geishauser | Michael Heck | Shutong Feng | Milica Gasic
Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Special Interest Group on Discourse and Dialogue

Dialogue policy optimisation via reinforcement learning requires a large number of training interactions, which makes learning with real users time consuming and expensive. Many set-ups therefore rely on a user simulator instead of humans. These user simulators have their own problems. While hand-coded, rule-based user simulators have been shown to be sufficient in small, simple domains, for complex domains the number of rules quickly becomes intractable. State-of-the-art data-driven user simulators, on the other hand, are still domain-dependent. This means that adaptation to each new domain requires redesigning and retraining. In this work, we propose a domain-independent transformer-based user simulator (TUS). The structure of TUS is not tied to a specific domain, enabling domain generalization and the learning of cross-domain user behaviour from data. We compare TUS with the state-of-the-art using automatic as well as human evaluations. TUS can compete with rule-based user simulators on pre-defined domains and is able to generalize to unseen domains in a zero-shot fashion.