Neural Generation Meets Real People: Towards Emotionally Engaging Mixed-Initiative Conversations

Ashwin Paranjape*, Abigail See*, Kathleen Kenealy, Haojun Li, Amelia Hardy, Peng Qi, Kaushik Ram Sadagopan, Nguyet Minh Phu, Dilara Soylu, Christopher D. Manning
Alexa Prize Proceedings 2020

We present Chirpy Cardinal, an open-domain dialogue agent, as a research plat- form for the 2019 Alexa Prize competition. Building an open-domain socialbot that talks to real people is challenging – such a system must meet multiple user expectations such as broad world knowledge, conversational style, and emotional connection. Our socialbot engages users on their terms – prioritizing their interests, feelings and autonomy. As a result, our socialbot provides a responsive, person- alized user experience, capable of talking knowledgeably about a wide variety of topics, as well as chatting empathetically about ordinary life. Neural generation plays a key role in achieving these goals, providing the backbone for our con- versational and emotional tone. At the end of the competition, Chirpy Cardinal progressed to the finals with an average rating of 3.6/5.0, a median conversation duration of 2 minutes 16 seconds, and a 90th percentile duration of over 12 minutes.