Improving Semantic Parsing for Task Oriented Dialog

02/15/2019 ∙ by Arash Einolghozati, et al. ∙ Facebook Stanford University 2

Semantic parsing using hierarchical representations has recently been proposed for task oriented dialog with promising results [Gupta et al 2018]. In this paper, we present three different improvements to the model: contextualized embeddings, ensembling, and pairwise re-ranking based on a language model. We taxonomize the errors possible for the hierarchical representation, such as wrong top intent, missing spans or split spans, and show that the three approaches correct different kinds of errors. The best model combines the three techniques and gives 6.4 than the state-of-the-art, with an error reduction of 33 state-of-the-art result on the Task Oriented Parsing (TOP) dataset.



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1 Introduction

Although intelligent personal assistants such as Alexa and Siri are now ubiquitous, modeling the semantics of compositional natural language queries remains challenging. The most common practice for natural language understanding in task oriented dialogs is to apply a slot-filling system Mesnil et al. (2013); Liu and Lane (2016). Given a simple query such as “How far is San Francisco”

, a slot-filling system would classify the

intent of the whole query (GET_DISTANCE) and tag the relevant slots (San Francisco being a DESTINATION) with a sequence tagging model. However, understanding more complex queries such as “How far is the coffee shop”, which requires locating the coffee shop (GET_RESTAURANT_LOCATION intent) before finding the distance (GET_DISTANCE intent), is not straightforward in traditional systems, since the compositionality is not captured when the task is posed as text classification or sequence tagging.

Recently, a Task Oriented Parsing (TOP) representation for intent-slot based dialog systems was introduced  Gupta et al. (2018). The representation, as illustrated in Figure 1, is expressive enough to capture the task-specific semantics of complex nested queries, but is easier to annotate and parse than full semantic representations such as logical forms Zelle and Mooney (1996) or abstract meaning representation Banarescu et al. (2013).

A key advantage of the TOP representation is that its structure is similar to standard constituency parses, allowing us to adapt improvements in modeling techniques for syntactic parsers to this problem. In this paper, we propose three approaches to improve the parsing model:

  • Ensembling with three strategies: majority voting, greedy action, and parser switch.

  • Incorporating deep contextualized word embeddings, such as ELMo Peters et al. (2018).

  • Re-ranking the parses based on a language model (LM).

To compare the effectiveness of the different approaches, we also propose an error classification scheme for the TOP representation. Our analysis shows that the improvements from the three techniques are orthogonal. This allows us to construct the best model using an ensemble of seven models, of which three are trained with LM-based re-ranking.

2 Base Model and Data

5pt 12pt 9pt3pt 9pt3pt (.IN:GET_DISTANCE. ‘How far is’ (.SL:DESTINATION. (.IN:GET_RESTAURANT_LOCATION. ‘the’ (.SL:TYPE_FOOD. ‘coffee’ ) ‘shop’ ) ) )
Action Stack Buffer How far is the coffee shop IN:GD IN:GD How far is the coffee shop SHIFT IN:GD How far is the coffee shop SHIFT IN:GD How far is the coffee shop SHIFT IN:GD How far is the coffee shop SL:DEST IN:GD How far is SL:DEST the coffee shop IN:GRL IN:GD How far is SL:DEST IN:GRL the coffee shop SHIFT IN:GD How far is SL:DEST IN:GRL the coffee shop SL:TF IN:GD How far is SL:DEST IN:GRL the SL:TF coffee shop SHIFT IN:GD How far is SL:DEST IN:GRL the SL:TF coffee shop REDUCE IN:GD How far is SL:DEST IN:GRL the [SL:TF coffee ] shop SHIFT IN:GD How far is SL:DEST IN:GRL the [SL:TF coffee ] shop REDUCE IN:GD How far is SL:DEST [IN:GRL the [SL:TF coffee ] shop ] REDUCE IN:GD How far is [SL:DEST [IN:GRL the [SL:TF coffee ] shop ] ] REDUCE [IN:GD How far is [SL:DEST [IN:GRL the [SL:TF coffee ] shop ] ] ]

Figure 1: An example TOP annotation. Intents are prefixed with IN: and slots with SL:. In a traditional intent-slot system, the SL:DESTINATION could not have an intent nested inside it. The table below shows the parser actions used to generate the parse (with abbreviated labels). At each step, the candidate actions are scored based on the stack LSTM embeddings of three sequences: the previous actions, the current stack, and the current buffer.

Following Gupta et al. (2018)

, we use a shift-reduce parser based on Recurrent Neural Network Grammars (RNNG) 

Dyer et al. (2016) as our base model. The model constructs a parse tree by predicting a sequence of actions. The set of actions include SHIFT, REDUCE, and the generation of intent and slot labels. The SHIFT action consumes an input token, adding it as a child of most recent ‘open’ sub-tree node, while the REDUCE action closes a sub-tree. The final set of actions is to generate a non-terminal (an intent or a slot) as a new empty sub-tree node. Note that at each step, only a subset of actions will be valid. For examples, if all the input tokens have been added to the tree, the only valid action is REDUCE.

In an RNNG model, the action are scored based on the embeddings of three sequences: the list of actions performed so far, the partial construction of the tree (“stack”), and the list of remaining tokens (“buffer”). Each sequence is embedded using a stack LSTM, which dynamically recomputes the embedding as items are added to or removed from the sequence.

For training, we use the same hyperparameters as in 

Gupta et al. (2018): 2-layer LSTMs of size 164, dropout rate of 0.34, and pre-trained word embeddings of size 200. We train with 16 workers using Hogwild Recht et al. (2011)

for 1 epoch. For optimization, we use Adam

Kingma and Ba (2015) with learning rate of 0.0004 and weight decay of 0.00004. The base model uses greedy decoding for inference at test time.

The open-sourced data released by Gupta et al. (2018) contains utterances of navigation and event domains. We remove the utterances where the top intent is IN:UNSUPPORTED

as it is a noisy catch-all class for out-of-domain utterances. The final dataset contains 28,276 training, 4,014 evaluation, and 8,191 test utterances. Our evaluation metric is the exact match accuracy: the number of utterances whose full parse trees are correctly predicted.

3 Improvements

3.1 Ensembling

Ensembling is a powerful method to improve the performance of dependency and constituency parsers Henderson and Brill (2000); Surdeanu and Manning (2010). In order to take advantage of parser diversity (e.g., sentence shuffling, dropout seeds, parameter initialization), we use different strategies to combine the output of individual parsers.

A parse tree has a one-to-one correspondence with the sequence of actions performed by the parser. In the approaches below, we propose and compare different ways of combining the list of actions from several base models. To ensure that the resulting parse is well-formed, we design the methods so that the output parse always matches one of the parses produced by ensembling parsers.

Majority Vote: We simply select the list which has been predicted by the majority of the individual parsers as the output of the ensemble.

Greedy Action:

Starting from left (the top-level intent) to right, we pick the action that is predicted by the majority of the parsers, and then discard parsers that do not agree with the majority. Since the action lists can have different lengths, we pad the shorter lists with dummy actions which are eventually removed.

Parser Switch: We implement an approach similar to the one proposed in Henderson and Brill (2000). From each parse , we first obtain the constituent set , where each constituent is a triple (label, start index, end index) extracted from a sub-tree node. For example, the constituent corresponding to the top intent of the parse in Figure 1 is . The score for each parser is then computed as ; i.e., the sum of intersection with the constituent sets from other parses. Finally, we choose the parser with the highest score. In contrast to the previous two methods, parser switch considers the whole tree to find the majority consensus, but it is computationally more expensive as it needs to construct trees from all parsers to obtain the constituent sets.

We also report the oracle ensemble parser which always picks the correct parser whenever possible in order to determine the upper bound for ensembling gains. For the rest of the paper, we use seven parsers for the ensemble model. The results in Table 2 show that the greedy action and majority vote strategies are almost equally good and better than the parser switch. On the other hand, all the methods fall short of the oracle parser which suggests that there might still be room for improving the ensemble parser. The effectiveness of the simple majority vote confirms the observation in Surdeanu and Manning (2010), which showed that simple voting performs well for ensembling dependency parsers.

Ensembling Strategy Accuracy
Base 80.86
Oracle 90.81
Majority Vote 83.76
Greedy Action 83.84
Parser Switch 82.82
Table 2: Gains from ELMo embeddings.
ELMo layer Accuracy
First 83.93
Last 83.08
Average 83.85
Learned 83.76
oncatenated 83.70
Table 1: Gains from ensembling.

3.2 Contextual word embeddings

Following the substantial gains provided by contextual embeddings for multiple NLP tasks Peters et al. (2018)

, we replace the regular pre-trained word embeddings with off-the-shelf pre-trained ELMo embeddings. It has 2 bi-LSTM layers with highway connections on top of a character n-gram convolutional layer, which after projection result in three vectors of size 1024 for each word.

The results for different ELMo strategies are shown in Table 2: using the first layer, last layer, average of 3 layers, concatenating the layers, and learned weighted average of the layers. The first and last layer weights result in the biggest and smallest gains, respectively. A justification for the first layer’s better performance on our task can be that the parser needs to identify syntactic properties (e.g., opening the non-terminal right after prepositions) to produce correct parses.

3.3 Language Model Re-ranking

The experiment in Gupta et al. (2018) showed that the top-5 accuracy of the model (i.e., the fraction of utterances where the correct parse is in any of the output from a beam of 5) is much higher than the top-1 accuracy. We train the base model as described in the previous section, but use beam search of size 5 instead of greedy decoding at inference. This improves the accuracy of the top-1 and top-5 hypotheses as shown in Table 3. This suggests that re-ranking the top hypotheses can be an effective way of increasing the accuracy.

Similar to Collins and Koo (2005), we propose to score the parses for re-ranking with a language model over the sequential serialization of the parses. Our hypothesis is that the generative nature of language model scoring could mitigate some of errors arising from the greedy decoding in RNNG. We serialize the parse tree as follows: the opening bracket and the non-terminal are considered as one token, and the closing bracket is mapped to the corresponding non-terminal and considered a different token. For example, [IN:GET_EVENT [SL:CAT_EVENT Concerts ] by [SL:NAME_EVENT Kendrick Lamar ] ] would become "O_IN_GET_EVENT O_SL_CATEGORY_EVENT Concerts C_SL_CATEGORY_EVENT by O_SL_NAME_EVENT Kendrick Lamar C_SL_NAME_EVENT C_IN_GET_EVENT" (O stands for open and C stands for close).

We serialize the gold trees in the training data and train a neural language model on them. We explore two approaches to re-ranking using the trained language model:

  • Use the LM score directly to rank the parses. We found that re-ranking only the top two hypotheses gives the best results.

  • Train a SVM-based ranker Herbrich et al. (1999) that takes the beam score and LM score as features.

Method Accuracy
Base (Greedy) 80.86
Oracle top-2 beam 89.99
Oracle top-5 beam 93.20
Top-1 beam 81.21
Naive LM ranker 82.80
SVM ranker 84.26
Table 3: Gains from LM-based re-ranking with beam size 5.

At the end, the top decoded beams are scored and re-ranked based on one of the two strategies described above. The last two rows in Table 3 show that the LM re-ranking using the SVM ranker results in a substantial gain over the top-1 beam but there is still a huge difference compared to the oracle top-5 beam decoding. This suggests that more effective re-ranking approaches, such as including more features in the ranker, could be worth trying.

4 Error Analysis

In this section, we categorize the types of errors the parsing model makes in our task and analyze which ones can be mitigated via the methods described in the previous section. We classify the errors into seven major groups. Note that a single query can exhibit multiple types of errors. (In the list below, – and + denote the expected and predicted frames below, respectively.)

  1. Wrong Top intent (WT): The first action taken is wrong.

    [IN:GET_INFO_TRAFFIC how many miles is [SL:LOCATION [IN:GET_LOCATION [SL:CATEGORY_LOCATION the interstate ] ] ] backed up ]

    + [IN:GET_DISTANCE how many [SL:UNIT_DISTANCE miles ] is [SL:DESTINATION [IN:GET_LOCATION [SL:CATEGORY_LOCATION the interstate ] ] ] backed up ]

  2. Wrong Label (WL): A predicted label for the sub-intents or slots is wrong.

    [IN:GET_INFO_TRAFFIC Should I avoid [SL:PATH_AVOID I - 26 ] [SL:DATE_TIME today ] ]

    + [IN:GET_INFO_TRAFFIC Should I avoid [SL:LOCATION I - 26 ] [SL:DATE_TIME today ] ]

  3. Spurious span (SS): A Constituent is wrongly added.

    [IN:GET_ESTIMATED_DEPARTURE Do I need to leave earlier [SL:DATE_TIME_DEPARTURE today ] due to traffic ]

    + [IN:GET_ESTIMATED_DEPARTURE Do I need to leave [SL:SOURCE earlier ] [SL:DATE_TIME_DEPARTURE today ] due to traffic ]

  4. Missing Spans (MS): A Constituent is missing in the prediction.

    [IN:GET_INFO_TRAFFIC What is traffic like in [SL:LOCATION still water ] [SL:DATE_TIME

    at the moment

    ] ]

    + [IN:GET_INFO_TRAFFIC What is traffic like in still water [SL:DATE_TIME at the moment ] ]

  5. Wrong Split (WS): Constituents are wrongly split.

    [IN:GET_EVENT When is [SL:CATEGORY_EVENT Christmas in the Park ] [SL:DATE_TIME this year ] in [SL:LOCATION San Antonio TX ] ]

    + [IN:GET_EVENT When is [SL:DATE_TIME Christmas ] in [SL:LOCATION [IN:GET_LOCATION [SL:CATEGORY_LOCATION the Park ] ] ] [SL:DATE_TIME this year ] in [SL:LOCATION San Antonio TX ] ]

  6. Wrong join (WJ): Constituents are wrongly joined.


    + [IN:GET_EVENT [SL:CATEGORY_EVENT Dayton parties ] [SL:DATE_TIME for NYE ] ]

  7. Bad Boundary (BB): A constituent has wrong boundaries.

    [IN:GET_EVENT Whats [SL:DATE_TIME tomorrows ] events for [SL:LOCATION Houston ] ]

    + [IN:GET_EVENT Whats [SL:CATEGORY_EVENT tomorrows events ] for [SL:LOCATION Houston ] ]

The absolute number of errors for the base model and the relative change for each of the methods in the previous section are summarized in Table 4. We use the majority vote ensemble and the average ELMo setting for the experiments. We can see that ELMo is effective across all types of errors, while ensemble and LM ranking mitigate most types of errors. Ensembling is much more effective at top intent classification (a semantic task) whereas ELMo is the only method effective against missing span and wrong join (mostly syntactic tasks). This confirms the hypothesis that the RNNG model uses the syntactic information in the first layer of ELMo more than the other layers. The above analysis suggests that combining the aforementioned methods can be effective in mitigating different types of errors together, which we explore in the next section.

Base 222 850 246 333 110 88 330
ELMo -9% -20% -11% -25% -22% -28% -21%
Ensemble -25% -21% +2% -32% -29% +3% -18%
LM re-rank -20% -20% +3% -36% -47% -8% -15%
Table 4: Effectiveness of methods on different types of errors (as percentage of error reduction).

5 Combining the Methods

Based on the analysis in the previous section, we combine the methods to seek further gains. We first try the ELMo + Ensemble combination. We use the average ELMo strategy and experiment with the three ensemble strategies. The results are shown in Table 6. The combined gain confirms that the ensemble and ELMo work almost orthogonally and the combination results in about error reduction compared to the base parser.

Ensemble Strategy Accuracy
Oracle 92.43
Majority Vote 86.19
Greedy Action 85.95
Parser Switch 84.62
Table 6: LM re-ranking with ELMo.
Method Accuracy
Oracle top-2 beam 91.53
Oracle top-5 beam 95.04
Base ELMo (Greedy) 83.85
Top-1 beam 84.05
LM re-ranked 86.30
Table 5: Combining ensembling and ELMo.

We also experiment with adding the LM SVM re-ranking to the ELMo-enabled model. The results are shown in Table 6. We observe that combined with ELMo, the LM re-ranking of the top beams still keeps most of its gains compared to the case without ELMo.

Finally, we report the results of combining LM re-ranking and ensemble (with and without using ELMo). Here, we employ two strategies. In the first strategy, using the ranking SVM strategy as before, we re-rank the top five hypotheses for each parser inside the ensemble and then apply the ensemble strategy. In the second strategy, we use the number of times each hypothesis appears in the top-5 beam of the parsers as an additional feature to the ranking SVM. We use the average ELMo strategy alongside with the majority vote ensemble for these experiments.

Table 7 compares the results to the baseline using the top beam. We can see that LM re-ranking can be effective on top of ensemble and ELMo, and the biggest gains are achieved by using the voting decision inside the ranking SVM.

Method Accuracy
Base Ensemble w/o ELMo 83.83
LM re-ranked Ensemble w/o ELMo 84.86
Extended SVM Ranking w/o ELMo 85.22
Base Ensemble with ELMo 86.26
LM re-ranked Ensemble with ELMo 86.67
Extended SVM Ranking with ELMo 87.25
Table 7: The results from combining all techniques.

6 Related Work

Our work builds on top of two related but distinct directions of research. At one end, there has been a large literature on language understanding for task oriented dialog, such as the work that tackle the ATIS and DSTC datasets Mesnil et al. (2013); Liu and Lane (2016). Most work in this area assumes that the utterance is not compositional. The current state-of-the-art Zhu and Yu (2017) frames the problem as one of non-recursive intent and slot tagging, and assumes that the NLU output is passed along to a dialog manager in order to be executed. There has also been work on end-to-end task oriented dialog Bordes et al. (2016), but there too, the problem is usually framed as one of selecting a single API call and its arguments, as opposed to compositional API calls.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the traditional semantic parsing literature, the problem is framed as predicting compositional semantic representations. These are mainly geared towards question-answering rather than task completion, and are usually directly executed against a knowledge base. Some of the standard datasets in this area include GeoQuery Zelle and Mooney (1996) and WebQuestions Berant et al. (2013).

Within both of these areas, neural approaches have supplanted previous feature-engineering based approaches in recent years Hakkani-Tur et al. (2016); Iyer et al. (2017). In the context of tree-structured semantic parsing, some other interesting approaches include Seq2Tree Dong and Lapata (2016) which modifies the standard Seq2Seq decoder to better output trees; SCANNER Cheng et al. (2017b, a) which extends the RNNG formulation specifically for semantic parsing such that the output is no longer coupled with the input; and TRANX Yin and Neubig (2018) and Abstract Syntax Network Rabinovich et al. (2017) which generate code along a programming language schema. For graph-structured semantic parsing Banarescu et al. (2013); He et al. (2017), SLING Ringgaard et al. (2017) produces graph-structured parses by modeling semantic parsing as a neural transition parsing problem with a more expressive transition tag set. While graph structures can provide more detailed semantics, they are more difficult to parse and can be an overkill for understanding task oriented utterances.

7 Conclusion

In this paper, we propose three different techniques to improve the hierarchical representation based semantic parsing models using ensembling, contextualized word embeddings, and language model based re-ranking. We propose a categorization of errors for the TOP representation. Our results show that the three approaches improve the model on different types of errors and the best model uses a combination of them. Our best model reduces the error rate by 33% on the TOP dataset.


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