The Centre for Speech Technology Research, The university of Edinburgh

Publications by Heriberto Cuayáhuitl

[1] Heriberto Cuayáhuitl. Hierarchical Reinforcement Learning for Spoken Dialogue Systems. PhD thesis, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, January 2009. [ bib | .pdf ]
This thesis focuses on the problem of scalable optimization of dialogue behaviour in speech-based conversational systems using reinforcement learning. Most previous investigations in dialogue strategy learning have proposed flat reinforcement learning methods, which are more suitable for small-scale spoken dialogue systems. This research formulates the problem in terms of Semi-Markov Decision Processes (SMDPs), and proposes two hierarchical reinforcement learning methods to optimize sub-dialogues rather than full dialogues. The first method uses a hierarchy of SMDPs, where every SMDP ignores irrelevant state variables and actions in order to optimize a sub-dialogue. The second method extends the first one by constraining every SMDP in the hierarchy with prior expert knowledge. The latter method proposes a learning algorithm called 'HAM+HSMQ-Learning', which combines two existing algorithms in the literature of hierarchical reinforcement learning. Whilst the first method generates fully-learnt behaviour, the second one generates semi-learnt behaviour. In addition, this research proposes a heuristic dialogue simulation environment for automatic dialogue strategy learning. Experiments were performed on simulated and real environments based on a travel planning spoken dialogue system. Experimental results provided evidence to support the following claims: First, both methods scale well at the cost of near-optimal solutions, resulting in slightly longer dialogues than the optimal solutions. Second, dialogue strategies learnt with coherent user behaviour and conservative recognition error rates can outperform a reasonable hand-coded strategy. Third, semi-learnt dialogue behaviours are a better alternative (because of their higher overall performance) than hand-coded or fully-learnt dialogue behaviours. Last, hierarchical reinforcement learning dialogue agents are feasible and promising for the (semi) automatic design of adaptive behaviours in larger-scale spoken dialogue systems. This research makes the following contributions to spoken dialogue systems which learn their dialogue behaviour. First, the Semi-Markov Decision Process (SMDP) model was proposed to learn spoken dialogue strategies in a scalable way. Second, the concept of 'partially specified dialogue strategies' was proposed for integrating simultaneously hand-coded and learnt spoken dialogue behaviours into a single learning framework. Third, an evaluation with real users of hierarchical reinforcement learning dialogue agents was essential to validate their effectiveness in a realistic environment.

[2] Heriberto Cuayáhuitl, Steve Renals, Oliver Lemon, and Hiroshi Shimodaira. Evaluation of a hierarchical reinforcement learning spoken dialogue system. Computer Speech and Language, 24(2):395-429, 2009. [ bib | DOI | .pdf ]
We describe an evaluation of spoken dialogue strategies designed using hierarchical reinforcement learning agents. The dialogue strategies were learnt in a simulated environment and tested in a laboratory setting with 32 users. These dialogues were used to evaluate three types of machine dialogue behaviour: hand-coded, fully-learnt and semi-learnt. These experiments also served to evaluate the realism of simulated dialogues using two proposed metrics contrasted with ‘Precision-Recall’. The learnt dialogue behaviours used the Semi-Markov Decision Process (SMDP) model, and we report the first evaluation of this model in a realistic conversational environment. Experimental results in the travel planning domain provide evidence to support the following claims: (a) hierarchical semi-learnt dialogue agents are a better alternative (with higher overall performance) than deterministic or fully-learnt behaviour; (b) spoken dialogue strategies learnt with highly coherent user behaviour and conservative recognition error rates (keyword error rate of 20%) can outperform a reasonable hand-coded strategy; and (c) hierarchical reinforcement learning dialogue agents are feasible and promising for the (semi) automatic design of optimized dialogue behaviours in larger-scale systems.

[3] Heriberto Cuayáhuitl, Steve Renals, Oliver Lemon, and Hiroshi Shimodaira. Hierarchical dialogue optimization using semi-markov decision processes. In Proc. Interspeech, August 2007. [ bib | .pdf ]
This paper addresses the problem of dialogue optimization on large search spaces. For such a purpose, in this paper we propose to learn dialogue strategies using multiple Semi-Markov Decision Processes and hierarchical reinforcement learning. This approach factorizes state variables and actions in order to learn a hierarchy of policies. Our experiments are based on a simulated flight booking dialogue system and compare flat versus hierarchical reinforcement learning. Experimental results show that the proposed approach produced a dramatic search space reduction (99.36%), and converged four orders of magnitude faster than flat reinforcement learning with a very small loss in optimality (on average 0.3 system turns). Results also report that the learnt policies outperformed a hand-crafted one under three different conditions of ASR confidence levels. This approach is appealing to dialogue optimization due to faster learning, reusable subsolutions, and scalability to larger problems.

[4] Heriberto Cuayáhuitl, Steve Renals, Oliver Lemon, and Hiroshi Shimodaira. Reinforcement learning of dialogue strategies with hierarchical abstract machines. In Proc. IEEE/ACL Workshop on Spoken Language Technology (SLT), December 2006. [ bib | .pdf ]
In this paper we propose partially specified dialogue strategies for dialogue strategy optimization, where part of the strategy is specified deterministically and the rest optimized with Reinforcement Learning (RL). To do this we apply RL with Hierarchical Abstract Machines (HAMs). We also propose to build simulated users using HAMs, incorporating a combination of hierarchical deterministic and probabilistic behaviour. We performed experiments using a single-goal flight booking dialogue system, and compare two dialogue strategies (deterministic and optimized) using three types of simulated user (novice, experienced and expert). Our results show that HAMs are promising for both dialogue optimization and simulation, and provide evidence that indeed partially specified dialogue strategies can outperform deterministic ones (on average 4.7 fewer system turns) with faster learning than the traditional RL framework.

[5] Heriberto Cuayáhuitl, Steve Renals, Oliver Lemon, and Hiroshi Shimodaira. Learning multi-goal dialogue strategies using reinforcement learning with reduced state-action spaces. In Proc. Interspeech, September 2006. [ bib | .pdf ]
Learning dialogue strategies using the reinforcement learning framework is problematic due to its expensive computational cost. In this paper we propose an algorithm that reduces a state-action space to one which includes only valid state-actions. We performed experiments on full and reduced spaces using three systems (with 5, 9 and 20 slots) in the travel domain using a simulated environment. The task was to learn multi-goal dialogue strategies optimizing single and multiple confirmations. Average results using strategies learnt on reduced spaces reveal the following benefits against full spaces: 1) less computer memory (94% reduction), 2) faster learning (93% faster convergence) and better performance (8.4% less time steps and 7.7% higher reward).

[6] Heriberto Cuayáhuitl, Steve Renals, Oliver Lemon, and Hiroshi Shimodaira. Human-computer dialogue simulation using hidden markov models. In Proc. IEEE Workshop on Automatic Speech Recognition and Understanding (ASRU), November 2005. [ bib | .pdf ]
This paper presents a probabilistic method to simulate task-oriented human-computer dialogues at the intention level, that may be used to improve or to evaluate the performance of spoken dialogue systems. Our method uses a network of Hidden Markov Models (HMMs) to predict system and user intentions, where a “language model” predicts sequences of goals and the component HMMs predict sequences of intentions. We compare standard HMMs, Input HMMs and Input-Output HMMs in an effort to better predict sequences of intentions. In addition, we propose a dialogue similarity measure to evaluate the realism of the simulated dialogues. We performed experiments using the DARPA Communicator corpora and report results with three different metrics: dialogue length, dialogue similarity and precision-recall.