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Evaluation of a hierarchical reinforcement learning spoken dialogue system

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-429
Number of pages35
JournalComputer Speech and Language
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010


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.

    Research areas

  • Spoken dialogue systems , Hierarchical reinforcement learning , Human–machine dialogue simulation, Dialogue strategies, System evaluation

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