Hierarchical Conversational Preference Elicitation with Bandit Feedback

6 Sep 2022  ·  Jinhang Zuo, Songwen Hu, Tong Yu, Shuai Li, Handong Zhao, Carlee Joe-Wong ·

The recent advances of conversational recommendations provide a promising way to efficiently elicit users' preferences via conversational interactions. To achieve this, the recommender system conducts conversations with users, asking their preferences for different items or item categories. Most existing conversational recommender systems for cold-start users utilize a multi-armed bandit framework to learn users' preference in an online manner. However, they rely on a pre-defined conversation frequency for asking about item categories instead of individual items, which may incur excessive conversational interactions that hurt user experience. To enable more flexible questioning about key-terms, we formulate a new conversational bandit problem that allows the recommender system to choose either a key-term or an item to recommend at each round and explicitly models the rewards of these actions. This motivates us to handle a new exploration-exploitation (EE) trade-off between key-term asking and item recommendation, which requires us to accurately model the relationship between key-term and item rewards. We conduct a survey and analyze a real-world dataset to find that, unlike assumptions made in prior works, key-term rewards are mainly affected by rewards of representative items. We propose two bandit algorithms, Hier-UCB and Hier-LinUCB, that leverage this observed relationship and the hierarchical structure between key-terms and items to efficiently learn which items to recommend. We theoretically prove that our algorithm can reduce the regret bound's dependency on the total number of items from previous work. We validate our proposed algorithms and regret bound on both synthetic and real-world data.

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