It has recently become feasible to run personal digital assistants on phones and other personal devices. In this paper we describe a design for a natural language understanding system that runs on device. In comparison to a server-based assistant, this system is more private, more reliable, faster, more expressive, and more accurate. We describe what led to key choices about architecture and technologies. For example, some approaches in the dialog systems literature are difficult to maintain over time in a deployment setting. We hope that sharing learnings from our practical experiences may help inform future work in the research community.
Providing voice assistants the ability to navigate multi-turn conversations is a challenging problem. Handling multi-turn interactions requires the system to understand various conversational use-cases, such as steering, intent carryover, disfluencies, entity carryover, and repair. The complexity of this problem is compounded by the fact that these use-cases mix with each other, often appearing simultaneously in natural language. This work proposes a non-autoregressive query rewriting architecture that can handle not only the five aforementioned tasks, but also complex compositions of these use-cases. We show that our proposed model has competitive single task performance compared to the baseline approach, and even outperforms a fine-tuned T5 model in use-case compositions, despite being 15 times smaller in parameters and 25 times faster in latency.
When tasked with supporting multiple languages for a given problem, two approaches have arisen: training a model for each language with the annotation budget divided equally among them, and training on a high-resource language followed by zero-shot transfer to the remaining languages. In this work, we show that the strategy of joint learning across multiple languages using a single model performs substantially better than the aforementioned alternatives. We also demonstrate that active learning provides additional, complementary benefits. We show that this simple approach enables the model to be data efficient by allowing it to arbitrate its annotation budget to query languages it is less certain on. We illustrate the effectiveness of our proposed method on a diverse set of tasks: a classification task with 4 languages, a sequence tagging task with 4 languages and a dependency parsing task with 5 languages. Our proposed method, whilst simple, substantially outperforms the other viable alternatives for building a model in a multilingual setting under constrained budgets.
In multimodal assistant, where vision is also one of the input modalities, the identification of user intent becomes a challenging task as visual input can influence the outcome. Current digital assistants take spoken input and try to determine the user intent from conversational or device context. So, a dataset, which includes visual input (i.e. images or videos for the corresponding questions targeted for multimodal assistant use cases, is not readily available. The research in visual question answering (VQA) and visual question generation (VQG) is a great step forward. However, they do not capture questions that a visually-abled person would ask multimodal assistants. Moreover, many times questions do not seek information from external knowledge. In this paper, we provide a new dataset, MMIU (MultiModal Intent Understanding), that contains questions and corresponding intents provided by human annotators while looking at images. We, then, use this dataset for intent classification task in multimodal digital assistant. We also experiment with various approaches for combining vision and language features including the use of multimodal transformer for classification of image-question pairs into 14 intents. We provide the benchmark results and discuss the role of visual and text features for the intent classification task on our dataset.
Entity tags in human-machine dialog are integral to natural language understanding (NLU) tasks in conversational assistants. However, current systems struggle to accurately parse spoken queries with the typical use of text input alone, and often fail to understand the user intent. Previous work in linguistics has identified a cross-language tendency for longer speech pauses surrounding nouns as compared to verbs. We demonstrate that the linguistic observation on pauses can be used to improve accuracy in machine-learnt language understanding tasks. Analysis of pauses in French and English utterances from a commercial voice assistant shows the statistically significant difference in pause duration around multi-token entity span boundaries compared to within entity spans. Additionally, in contrast to text-based NLU, we apply pause duration to enrich contextual embeddings to improve shallow parsing of entities. Results show that our proposed novel embeddings improve the relative error rate by up to 8% consistently across three domains for French, without any added annotation or alignment costs to the parser.
Named entity recognition (NER) is usually developed and tested on text from well-written sources. However, in intelligent voice assistants, where NER is an important component, input to NER may be noisy because of user or speech recognition error. In applications, entity labels may change frequently, and non-textual properties like topicality or popularity may be needed to choose among alternatives. We describe a NER system intended to address these problems. We test and train this system on a proprietary user-derived dataset. We compare with a baseline text-only NER system; the baseline enhanced with external gazetteers; and the baseline enhanced with the search and indirect labelling techniques we describe below. The final configuration gives around 6% reduction in NER error rate. We also show that this technique improves related tasks, such as semantic parsing, with an improvement of up to 5% in error rate.
Anaphora and ellipses are two common phenomena in dialogues. Without resolving referring expressions and information omission, dialogue systems may fail to generate consistent and coherent responses. Traditionally, anaphora is resolved by coreference resolution and ellipses by query rewrite. In this work, we propose a novel joint learning framework of modeling coreference resolution and query rewriting for complex, multi-turn dialogue understanding. Given an ongoing dialogue between a user and a dialogue assistant, for the user query, our joint learning model first predicts coreference links between the query and the dialogue context, and then generates a self-contained rewritten user query. To evaluate our model, we annotate a dialogue based coreference resolution dataset, MuDoCo, with rewritten queries. Results show that the performance of query rewrite can be substantially boosted (+2.3% F1) with the aid of coreference modeling. Furthermore, our joint model outperforms the state-of-the-art coreference resolution model (+2% F1) on this dataset.
Named Entity Understanding (NEU) plays an essential role in interactions between users and voice assistants, since successfully identifying entities and correctly linking them to their standard forms is crucial to understanding the user's intent. NEU is a challenging task in voice assistants due to the ambiguous nature of natural language and because noise introduced by speech transcription and user errors occur frequently in spoken natural language queries. In this paper, we propose an architecture with novel features that jointly solves the recognition of named entities (a.k.a. Named Entity Recognition, or NER) and the resolution to their canonical forms (a.k.a. Entity Linking, or EL). We show that by combining NER and EL information in a joint reranking module, our proposed framework improves accuracy in both tasks. This improved performance and the features that enable it, also lead to better accuracy in downstream tasks, such as domain classification and semantic parsing.
In this work, we propose a novel approach that predicts the relationships between various entities in an image in a weakly supervised manner by relying on image captions and object bounding box annotations as the sole source of supervision. Our proposed approach uses a top-down attention mechanism to align entities in captions to objects in the image, and then leverage the syntactic structure of the captions to align the relations. We use these alignments to train a relation classification network, thereby obtaining both grounded captions and dense relationships. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our model on the Visual Genome dataset by achieving a recall@50 of 15% and recall@100 of 25% on the relationships present in the image. We also show that the model successfully predicts relations that are not present in the corresponding captions.