Traditional recommender systems leverage users' item preference history to recommend novel content that users may like. However, modern dialog interfaces that allow users to express language-based preferences offer a fundamentally different modality for preference input. Inspired by recent successes of prompting paradigms for large language models (LLMs), we study their use for making recommendations from both item-based and language-based preferences in comparison to state-of-the-art item-based collaborative filtering (CF) methods. To support this investigation, we collect a new dataset consisting of both item-based and language-based preferences elicited from users along with their ratings on a variety of (biased) recommended items and (unbiased) random items. Among numerous experimental results, we find that LLMs provide competitive recommendation performance for pure language-based preferences (no item preferences) in the near cold-start case in comparison to item-based CF methods, despite having no supervised training for this specific task (zero-shot) or only a few labels (few-shot). This is particularly promising as language-based preference representations are more explainable and scrutable than item-based or vector-based representations.
Despite the potential impact of explanations on decision making, there is a lack of research on quantifying their effect on users' choices. This paper presents an experimental protocol for measuring the degree to which positively or negatively biased explanations can lead to users choosing suboptimal recommendations. Key elements of this protocol include a preference elicitation stage to allow for personalizing recommendations, manual identification and extraction of item aspects from reviews, and a controlled method for introducing bias through the combination of both positive and negative aspects. We study explanations in two different textual formats: as a list of item aspects and as fluent natural language text. Through a user study with 129 participants, we demonstrate that explanations can significantly affect users' selections and that these findings generalize across explanation formats.
* Extended Abstracts of the 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in
Computing Systems (CHI EA '23), 2023
Users in consumption domains, like music, are often able to more efficiently provide preferences over a set of items (e.g. a playlist or radio) than over single items (e.g. songs). Unfortunately, this is an underexplored area of research, with most existing recommendation systems limited to understanding preferences over single items. Curating an item set exponentiates the search space that recommender systems must consider (all subsets of items!): this motivates conversational approaches-where users explicitly state or refine their preferences and systems elicit preferences in natural language-as an efficient way to understand user needs. We call this task conversational item set curation and present a novel data collection methodology that efficiently collects realistic preferences about item sets in a conversational setting by observing both item-level and set-level feedback. We apply this methodology to music recommendation to build the Conversational Playlist Curation Dataset (CPCD), where we show that it leads raters to express preferences that would not be otherwise expressed. Finally, we propose a wide range of conversational retrieval models as baselines for this task and evaluate them on the dataset.
Conversational recommendation systems (CRSs) enable users to use natural language feedback to control their recommendations, overcoming many of the challenges of traditional recommendation systems. However, the practical adoption of CRSs remains limited due to a lack of rich and diverse conversational training data that pairs user utterances with recommendations. To address this problem, we introduce a new method to generate synthetic training data by transforming curated item collections, such as playlists or movie watch lists, into item-seeking conversations. First, we use a biased random walk to generate a sequence of slates, or sets of item recommendations; then, we use a language model to generate corresponding user utterances. We demonstrate our approach by generating a conversational music recommendation dataset with over one million conversations, which were found to be consistent with relevant recommendations by a crowdsourced evaluation. Using the synthetic data to train a CRS, we significantly outperform standard retrieval baselines in offline and online evaluations.
Recent advances in language modeling have enabled new conversational systems. In particular, it is often desirable for people to make choices among specified options when using such systems. We address the problem of reference resolution, when people use natural expressions to choose between real world entities. For example, given the choice `Should we make a Simnel cake or a Pandan cake?' a natural response from a non-expert may be indirect: `let's make the green one'. Reference resolution has been little studied with natural expressions, thus robustly understanding such language has large potential for improving naturalness in dialog, recommendation, and search systems. We create AltEntities (Alternative Entities), a new public dataset of entity pairs and utterances, and develop models for the disambiguation problem. Consisting of 42K indirect referring expressions across three domains, it enables for the first time the study of how large language models can be adapted to this task. We find they achieve 82%-87% accuracy in realistic settings, which while reasonable also invites further advances.
Natural interaction with recommendation and personalized search systems has received tremendous attention in recent years. We focus on the challenge of supporting people's understanding and control of these systems and explore a fundamentally new way of thinking about representation of knowledge in recommendation and personalization systems. Specifically, we argue that it may be both desirable and possible for algorithms that use natural language representations of users' preferences to be developed. We make the case that this could provide significantly greater transparency, as well as affordances for practical actionable interrogation of, and control over, recommendations. Moreover, we argue that such an approach, if successfully applied, may enable a major step towards systems that rely less on noisy implicit observations while increasing portability of knowledge of one's interests.
* Proceedings of the 45th International ACM SIGIR Conference on
Research and Development in Information Retrieval (SIGIR '22), 2022
Conversational information seeking (CIS) is concerned with a sequence of interactions between one or more users and an information system. Interactions in CIS are primarily based on natural language dialogue, while they may include other types of interactions, such as click, touch, and body gestures. This monograph provides a thorough overview of CIS definitions, applications, interactions, interfaces, design, implementation, and evaluation. This monograph views CIS applications as including conversational search, conversational question answering, and conversational recommendation. Our aim is to provide an overview of past research related to CIS, introduce the current state-of-the-art in CIS, highlight the challenges still being faced in the community. and suggest future directions.
A key distinguishing feature of conversational recommender systems over traditional recommender systems is their ability to elicit user preferences using natural language. Currently, the predominant approach to preference elicitation is to ask questions directly about items or item attributes. These strategies do not perform well in cases where the user does not have sufficient knowledge of the target domain to answer such questions. Conversely, in a shopping setting, talking about the planned use of items does not present any difficulties, even for those that are new to a domain. In this paper, we propose a novel approach to preference elicitation by asking implicit questions based on item usage. Our approach consists of two main steps. First, we identify the sentences from a large review corpus that contain information about item usage. Then, we generate implicit preference elicitation questions from those sentences using a neural text-to-text model. The main contributions of this work also include a multi-stage data annotation protocol using crowdsourcing for collecting high-quality labeled training data for the neural model. We show that our approach is effective in selecting review sentences and transforming them to elicitation questions, even with limited training data. Additionally, we provide an analysis of patterns where the model does not perform optimally.
* Proceedings of ACM Conference on Recommender Systems (RecSys '21)
We address how to robustly interpret natural language refinements (or critiques) in recommender systems. In particular, in human-human recommendation settings people frequently use soft attributes to express preferences about items, including concepts like the originality of a movie plot, the noisiness of a venue, or the complexity of a recipe. While binary tagging is extensively studied in the context of recommender systems, soft attributes often involve subjective and contextual aspects, which cannot be captured reliably in this way, nor be represented as objective binary truth in a knowledge base. This also adds important considerations when measuring soft attribute ranking. We propose a more natural representation as personalized relative statements, rather than as absolute item properties. We present novel data collection techniques and evaluation approaches, and a new public dataset. We also propose a set of scoring approaches, from unsupervised to weakly supervised to fully supervised, as a step towards interpreting and acting upon soft attribute based critiques.
* Proceedings of the 44th International ACM SIGIR Conference on
Research and Development in Information Retrieval (SIGIR '21), 2021
We revisit a pragmatic inference problem in dialog: understanding indirect responses to questions. Humans can interpret 'I'm starving.' in response to 'Hungry?', even without direct cue words such as 'yes' and 'no'. In dialog systems, allowing natural responses rather than closed vocabularies would be similarly beneficial. However, today's systems are only as sensitive to these pragmatic moves as their language model allows. We create and release the first large-scale English language corpus 'Circa' with 34,268 (polar question, indirect answer) pairs to enable progress on this task. The data was collected via elaborate crowdsourcing, and contains utterances with yes/no meaning, as well as uncertain, middle-ground, and conditional responses. We also present BERT-based neural models to predict such categories for a question-answer pair. We find that while transfer learning from entailment works reasonably, performance is not yet sufficient for robust dialog. Our models reach 82-88% accuracy for a 4-class distinction, and 74-85% for 6 classes.
* 15 pages, 3 figures. To appear at the 2020 Conference on Empirical
Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP), 2020