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A key advantage of taking a statistical approach to spoken dialogue systems is the ability to formalise dialogue policy design as a stochastic optimization problem. However, since dialogue policies are learnt by interactively exploring alternative dialogue paths, conventional static dialogue corpora cannot be used directly for training and instead, a user simulator is commonly used. This paper describes a novel statistical user model based on a compact stack-like state representation called a user agenda which allows state transitions to be modeled as sequences of push- and pop-operations and elegantly encodes the dialogue history from a user's point of view. An expectation-maximisation based algorithm is presented which models the observable user output in terms of a sequence of hidden states and thereby allows the model to be trained on a corpus of minimally annotated data. Experimental results with a real-world dialogue system demonstrate that the trained user model can be successfully used to optimise a dialogue policy which outperforms a hand-crafted baseline in terms of task completion rates and user satisfaction scores.
Audio, Speech, and Language Processing, IEEE Transactions on (Volume:17 , Issue: 4 )
Date of Publication: May 2009