Further advances in open domain dialog systems in the Third Alexa Prize SocialBot Grand Challenge
Building open domain conversational systems that allow users to have engaging conversations on topics of their choice is a challenging task. The Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge was launched in 2016 to tackle the problem of achieving natural, sustained, coherent and engaging open-domain dialogs. In the third iteration of the competition, university teams have moved the needle on the state of the art, bringing together common sense knowledge representations, neural response generation models, NLU systems enhanced by large-scale transformer models and improved dialog policies to switch between graph-based representations or retrieval-based or templated dialog fragments, along with generated responses. The Third Socialbot Grand Challenge included an improved version of the CoBot (conversational bot) toolkit from the prior competition, along with topic and dialog act detection models, conversation evaluators, and a sensitive content detection model so that the competing teams could focus on building knowledge-rich, coherent and engaging multi-turn dialog systems. This paper outlines the advances developed by the university teams as well as the Alexa Prize team to move closer to the Grand Challenge objective. We address several key open-ended problems such as conversational speech recognition, open domain natural language understanding, commonsense reasoning, statistical dialog management and dialog evaluation. These collaborative efforts have driven improved ratings in the Semifinals of the competition from 3.19 in the prior competition cycle to 3.47 across all teams, an increase of 8.8%. As of the end of the final feedback phase, the top 7-day average rating achieved by a socialbot was 3.71 (out of 5), with the top 90th percentile conversation duration at 14 minutes 19 seconds.