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Video: 6 Ways to Improve VAs via Better Language Understanding

Learn more about conversational systems at the next SpeechTEK conference.

Watch Deborah Dahl's complete keynote from SpeechTEK 2019, Just Like Talking to a Person: How to Get There From Here, in the SpeechTEK Video Portal.

Interested in attending a SpeechTEK event? Visit SpeechTEK.com to sign up for conference alerts, discounts, and more.

Read the complete transcript of this clip:

Deborah Dahl: Getting better language understanding, in most cases, is an incremental task. Being able to process more complex language, like alternatives--"Are there any Mexican restaurants near here, besides Plaza Azteca? How can I get to Philadelphia without going on the Schuylkill?" To me those are just a matter of the developers saying, "Okay, we want to handle alternatives."

The same thing goes for possibilities. "Is there a Mexican restaurant near here that's open now?" That's a question about a possibility. Multi-intent is really, really useful technology or really useful feature and that refers to things like the user asks two things in the same question.

People are working hard on that because it is very natural for you to say things that are really two tasks. "Is there a Mexican restaurant near here? If so, make a reservation for me at one o'clock." There's two jobs that you're doing with your artificial assistant.

One that I think is really, really hard is a general inference. So, all of the Siri, Alexa, and Google family will answer questions like, "Do I need an umbrella today?" They take that as a weather request. That sounds really cool. That sounds like it's so smart but actually those have been hard-coded in the back end.

The way that you know that they're not doing a general inferencing job is to ask them something a little bit more off the wall. So, if you ask them something like, "Can I wear flip-flops today?" You'd have to know what the weather's gonna be like. If it's gonna be warm enough for flip-flops. Well, you also have to know what flip-flops are and that they're kind of open and your foot is out and exposed. So, if it's cold you don't want to wear flip-flops. Or if it's raining. You also need to know if someone has a lot of business meetings. You need to wear normal shoes to a business meeting, I think. Or maybe businesses are getting more casual but maybe not that casual.

So, to answer that kind of a question, you need to do some kind of general reasoning about really arbitrary knowledge. "What is appropriate business wear?" I tried these with Siri and Alexa. Siri was actually--I'm not sure why it did this-- but it actually did give me a weather report. Alexa just said, "I don't know." So, what you would like is some general ability to reason about knowledge, which is very far away from being executable. And the last one that needs a lot of work, I think, is inferencing about time. So, if you said something like "If I paid my bill yesterday, will my payment have arrived before the due date?" That would be very difficult with today's technology.

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