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  1. Users often need to look through multiple search result pages or reformulate queries when they have complex information-seeking needs. Conversational search systems make it possible to improve user satisfaction by asking questions to clarify users’ search intents. This, however, can take significant effort to answer a series of questions starting with “what/why/how”. To quickly identify user intent and reduce effort during interactions, we propose an intent clarification task based on yes/no questions where the system needs to ask the correct question about intents within the fewest conversation turns. In this task, it is essential to use negative feedback about the previous questions in the conversation history. To this end, we propose a Maximum-Marginal-Relevance (MMR) based BERT model (MMR-BERT) to leverage negative feedback based on the MMR principle for the next clarifying question selection. Experiments on the Qulac dataset show that MMR-BERT outperforms state-of-the-art baselines significantly on the intent identification task and the selected questions also achieve significantly better performance in the associated document retrieval tasks.
  2. Recent work on Question Answering (QA) and Conversational QA (ConvQA) emphasizes the role of retrieval: a system first retrieves evidence from a large collection and then extracts answers. This open-retrieval setting typically assumes that each question is answerable by a single span of text within a particular passage (a span answer). The supervision signal is thus derived from whether or not the system can recover an exact match of this ground-truth answer span from the retrieved passages. This method is referred to as span-match weak supervision. However, information-seeking conversations are challenging for this span-match method since long answers, especially freeform answers, are not necessarily strict spans of any passage. Therefore, we introduce a learned weak supervision approach that can identify a paraphrased span of the known answer in a passage. Our experiments on QuAC and CoQA datasets show that although a span-match weak supervisor can handle conversations with span answers, it is not sufficient for freeform answers generated by people. We further demonstrate that our method is more flexible since it can handle both span answers and freeform answers. In particular, our method outperforms the span-match method on conversations with freeform answers, and it can be more powerful when combinedmore »with the span-match method. We also conduct in-depth analyses to show more insights on open-retrieval ConvQA under a weak supervision setting.« less
  3. Asking clarifying questions in response to ambiguous or faceted queries has been recognized as a useful technique for various information retrieval systems, in particular, conversational search systems with limited bandwidth interfaces. Analyzing and generating clarifying question have been recently studied in the literature. However, accurate utilization of user responses to clarifying questions has been relatively less explored. In this paper, we propose a neural network model based on a novel attention mechanism, called multi source attention network. Our model learns a representation for a user-system conversation that includes clarifying questions. In more detail, with the help of multiple information sources, our model weights each term in the conversation. In our experiments, we use two separate external sources, including the top retrieved documents and a set of different possible clarifying questions for the query. We implement the proposed representation learning model for two downstream tasks in conversational search; document retrieval and next clarifying question selection. We evaluate our models using a public dataset for search clarification. Our experiments demonstrate significant improvements compared to competitive baselines.
  4. Conversational search is one of the ultimate goals of information retrieval. Recent research approaches conversational search by simplified settings of response ranking and conversational question answering, where an answer is either selected from a given candidate set or extracted from a given passage. These simplifications neglect the fundamental role of retrieval in conversational search. To address this limitation, we introduce an open-retrieval conversational question answering (ORConvQA) setting, where we learn to retrieve evidence from a large collection before extracting answers, as a further step towards building functional conversational search systems. We create a dataset, OR-QuAC, to facilitate research on ORConvQA. We build an end-to-end system for ORConvQA, featuring a retriever, a reranker, and a reader that are all based on Transformers. Our extensive experiments on OR-QuAC demonstrate that a learnable retriever is crucial for ORConvQA. We further show that our system can make a substantial improvement when we enable history modeling in all system components. Moreover, we show that the reranker component contributes to the model performance by providing a regularization effect. Finally, further in-depth analyses are performed to provide new insights into ORConvQA.
  5. Personal assistant systems, such as Apple Siri, Google Now, Amazon Alexa, and Microsoft Cortana, are becoming ever more widely used. Understanding user intent such as clarification questions, potential answers and user feedback in information-seeking conversations is critical for retrieving good responses. In this paper, we analyze user intent patterns in information-seeking conversations and propose an intent-aware neural response ranking model ``IART'', which refers to ``Intent-Aware Ranking with Transformers''. IART is built on top of the integration of user intent modeling and language representation learning with the Transformer architecture, which relies entirely on a self-attention mechanism instead of recurrent nets. It incorporates intent-aware utterance attention to derive an importance weighting scheme of utterances in conversation context with the aim of better conversation history understanding. We conduct extensive experiments with three information-seeking conversation data sets including both standard benchmarks and commercial data. Our proposed model outperforms all baseline methods with respect to a variety of metrics. We also perform case studies and analysis of learned user intent and its impact on response ranking in information-seeking conversations to provide interpretation of results. Our research findings provide insights on intent-aware neural ranking models based on Transformers for response selection, and have implications for themore »design of the next generation of information-seeking conversation systems.« less
  6. Considering the widespread use of mobile and voice search, answer passage retrieval for non-factoid questions plays a critical role in modern information retrieval systems. Despite the importance of the task, the community still feels the significant lack of large-scale non-factoid question answering collections with real questions and comprehensive relevance judgments. In this paper, we develop and release a collection of 2,626 open-domain non-factoid questions from a diverse set of categories. The dataset, called ANTIQUE, contains 34k manual relevance annotations. The questions were asked by real users in a community question answering service, i.e., Yahoo! Answers. Relevance judgments for all the answers to each question were collected through crowdsourcing. To facilitate further research, we also include a brief analysis of the data as well as baseline results on both classical and recently developed neural IR models.
  7. Existing learning to rank models for information retrieval are trained based on explicit or implicit query-document relevance information. In this paper, we study the task of learning a retrieval model based on user-item interactions. Our model has potential applications to the systems with rich user-item interaction data, such as browsing and recommendation, in which having an accurate search engine is desired. This includes media streaming services and e-commerce websites among others. Inspired by the neural approaches to collaborative filtering and the language modeling approaches to information retrieval, our model is jointly optimized to predict user-item interactions and reconstruct the item textual descriptions. In more details, our model learns user and item representations such that they can accurately predict future user-item interactions, while generating an effective unigram language model for each item. Our experiments on four diverse datasets in the context of movie and product search and recommendation demonstrate that our model substantially outperforms competitive retrieval baselines, in addition to providing comparable performance to state-of-the-art hybrid recommendation models.
  8. Intelligent assistants change the way for people to interact with computers and make it possible for people to search for products through conversations when they have purchase needs. During the interactions, the system could ask questions on certain aspects of the ideal products to clarify the users' needs. Previous work proposed to ask users the exact characteristics of their ideal items before showing results. However, users may not have clear ideas about what an ideal item should be like, especially when they have not seen any items. So it is more feasible to facilitate the conversational search by showing example items and asking for feedback instead. In addition, when the users provide negative feedback for the presented items, it is easier to collect their detailed feedback on certain properties (aspect-value pairs) of the non-relevant items. By breaking down the item-level negative feedback to fine-grained feedback on aspect-value pairs, more information is available to help clarify users' intents. So in this paper, we propose a conversational paradigm for product search driven by non-relevant items, based on which fine-grained feedback is collected and utilized to show better results in the next iteration. We then propose an aspect-value likelihood model to incorporate bothmore »positive and negative feedback on fine-grained aspect-value pairs of the non-relevant items. Experimental results show that our model is significantly better than state-of-art product search baselines without using feedback and baselines using item-level negative feedback.« less
  9. Intelligent personal assistant systems, with either text-based or voice-based conversational interfaces, are becoming increasingly popular. Most previous research has used either retrieval-based or generation-based methods. Retrieval-based methods have the advantage of returning fluent and informative responses with great diversity. The retrieved responses are easier to control and explain. However, the response retrieval performance is limited by the size of the response repository. On the other hand, although generation-based methods can return highly coherent responses given conversation context, they are likely to return universal or general responses with insufficient ground knowledge information. In this paper, we build a hybrid neural conversation model with the capability of both response retrieval and generation, in order to combine the merits of these two types of methods. Experimental results on Twitter and Foursquare data show that the proposed model can outperform both retrieval-based methods and generation-based methods (including a recently proposed knowledge-grounded neural conversation model) under both automatic evaluation metrics and human evaluation. Our models and research findings provide new insights on how to integrate text retrieval and text generation models for building conversation systems.