Contextual Dialogue Act Classification for Open-Domain Conversational Agents

28 May 2020  ·  Ali Ahmadvand, Jason Ingyu Choi, Eugene Agichtein ·

Classifying the general intent of the user utterance in a conversation, also known as Dialogue Act (DA), e.g., open-ended question, statement of opinion, or request for an opinion, is a key step in Natural Language Understanding (NLU) for conversational agents. While DA classification has been extensively studied in human-human conversations, it has not been sufficiently explored for the emerging open-domain automated conversational agents. Moreover, despite significant advances in utterance-level DA classification, full understanding of dialogue utterances requires conversational context. Another challenge is the lack of available labeled data for open-domain human-machine conversations. To address these problems, we propose a novel method, CDAC (Contextual Dialogue Act Classifier), a simple yet effective deep learning approach for contextual dialogue act classification. Specifically, we use transfer learning to adapt models trained on human-human conversations to predict dialogue acts in human-machine dialogues. To investigate the effectiveness of our method, we train our model on the well-known Switchboard human-human dialogue dataset, and fine-tune it for predicting dialogue acts in human-machine conversation data, collected as part of the Amazon Alexa Prize 2018 competition. The results show that the CDAC model outperforms an utterance-level state of the art baseline by 8.0% on the Switchboard dataset, and is comparable to the latest reported state-of-the-art contextual DA classification results. Furthermore, our results show that fine-tuning the CDAC model on a small sample of manually labeled human-machine conversations allows CDAC to more accurately predict dialogue acts in real users' conversations, suggesting a promising direction for future improvements.

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