Language Technologies Thesis Defense

  • Gates Hillman Centers
  • Reddy Conference Room 4405
Thesis Orals

A Crowd-Powered Conversational Assistant That Automates Itself Over Time

Interaction in rich natural language enables people to exchange thoughts efficiently and come to a shared understanding quickly. Modern personal intelligent assistants such as Apple's Siri and Amazon's Echo all utilize conversational interfaces as their primary communication channels, and illustrate a future that in which getting help from a computer is as easy as asking a friend. However, despite decades of research, modern conversational assistants are still limited in domain, expressiveness, and robustness. In this thesis, we take an alternative approach that blends real-time human computation with artificial intelligence to reliably engage in conversations. Instead of bootstrapping automation from the bottom up with only automatic components, we start with our crowd-powered conversational assistant, Chorus, and create a framework that enables Chorus to automate itself over time. Each of Chorus' response is proposed and voted on by a group of crowd workers in real-time. Toward realizing the goal of full automation, we (i) augmented Chorus' capability by connecting it with sensors and effectors on smartphones so that users can safely control them via conversation, and (ii) deployed Chorus to the public as a Google Hangouts chatbot to collect a large corpus of conversations to help speed automation. The deployed Chorus also provides a working system to experiment automated approaches. We (iii) created a framework that enables Chorus to automate itself over time by automatically obtaining response candidates from multiple dialog systems and selecting appropriate responses based on the current conversation. Over time, the automated systems will take over more responsibility in Chorus, not only helping us to deploy robust conversational assistants before we know how to automate everything, but also allowing us to drive down costs and gradually reduce reliance on the crowd.

Thesis Committee:
Jeffrey P. Bigham, (Chair)
Alexander I. Rudnicky
Niki Kittur
Walter S. Lasecki, (University of Michigan)
Chris Callison-Burch, (University of Pennsylvania)

Copy of the Thesis Document

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