Annual Report

SIRIDUS Annual Report 2001

Project Aims

Spoken language dialogue systems, such as automated telephone enquiry systems and hands-free in-car device control, are rapidly becoming a commercial reality. SIRIDUS aims to improve the understanding of what is required to provide reusable, robust and user-friendly spoken dialogue systems. The project demonstrators will include an automated telephone operator, and an integrated toolset for dialogue researchers.

Particular concerns in SIRIDUS are:

  1. achieving robustness when user utterances are unpredictable, and speech recognition is noisy
  2. showing that generic strategies for dialogue management can be applied to a wide range of dialogues including "command" dialogues and negotiative dialogues, not just information seeking dialogues.
  3. providing architectures which allow appropriate sharing of information between modules, for example, enabling dialogue systems to generate appropriately stressed output e.g. Did you mean the KITCHEN light or the HALL light vs. Did you mean the kitchen LIGHT or the kitchen FAN?

Summary of 2001 Activities

The second year highlights include:
  1. an initial version of the telephone operator demonstrator
  2. more rounded demonstrators built from the dialogue system toolset
  3. incorporation of Siridus technology in the demonstrators for the EU Project D'Homme

User requirements and Market Prospects

The market for dialogue systems has been developed rapidly. The Voice XML standard is increasingly prominent, and incorporates some flexibility, enabling users to answer more than one question at once. There seems little doubt that it would be useful for users to also be able to contradict existing information, or ask a question themselves. By pushing the limits of the kinds of flexibility which can be achieved in practical systems, the Siridus project should provide a good basis for the future developments of the standards in this area, and for building more user friendly dialogue systems. By emphasising reconfigurability and robustness, we also hope to meet the challenge of providing greater user-friendliness without incurring lower reliability or higher deployment costs.

The market for telephone systems which allow dialing by name has been shown by voice operated personnel assistants such as Wildfire. By allowing more natural voice based exchanges the Siridus telephone demonstrator will provide a similar service to untrained users in a corporate environment. An analysis of user requirements for the telephone operator system is provide by Deliverable D3-1, and an analysis of requirements for architectures which support advanced dialogue systems in Deliverable D6-1.

Technology outlook and innovative features

The Siridus project aims to provide innovative research which is applicable for real systems in the near term. The first two years have displayed innovative research work on how to provide systems for natural command languages and negotiative dialogue. Natural command language dialogues immediately take us outside simple slot filling based on filling in multiple parameters for a single task, since multiple tasks are often specified in the same utterance e.g. "Call Heather and transfer incoming calls to Peter". The work on negotiative dialogue is challenging to conventional views of how dialogue is structured. Examples from the corpus of travel agency dialogues show that questions can remain unanswered, and that users negotiate with the agent as to which parameters (such as the destination city, or the arrival time) they want to fix. This requires new ways for a system to structure a dialogue. A candidate theoretical framework for this is specified in D1.2.

A key to the work on robust interpretation is that it provides a uniform way to express rules based on keyword/key phrase spotting or more detailed linguistic descriptions. This makes it simple to ensure that the system always performs at least as well as a keyword/key phrase spotting system, since extra linguistic information is only used if it is both available and likely to be helpful. Innovative work in Siridus, described in D4.1 is aimed at making this work fit with repair strategies for robustness, and to show that the work can fit with rather more detailed linguistic descriptions thereby encompassing approaches which aim at a full linguistic analysis of user utterances.

The Demonstrator

The Siridus project is building two main demonstrators. The first is the telephone operator dialogue system mentioned above. This demonstrator is in Spanish, and allows a user to conduct a dialogue such as the following (translated from Spanish)
U: Hello I would like to place a collect call
S: Please specify a destination for the collect call
U: To the number 123456789
S: Placing the collect call. Would you like to continue?
U: Yes please
S: Please specify a function
U: I wish to send a message to Juan Perez
The demonstrator allows a user to call people by name (e.g. "Phone Fred Smith") to transfer calls (e.g. "Transfer my calls to Fred Smith") and to arrange conference calls. This saves the effort of first looking up e.g. the corporate directory over the web before making a call. The dialogue history is also used to enable functions which are not primitive operations of the PABX exchange e.g. "retry last call".

The second demonstrator is a toolkit for dialogue researchers. The aim is to provide a both a library of modules, and a toolkit in which dialogue researchers can plug in their particular module to test its effect on a whole system. The current toolkit is a derivative of the Trindikit, which is based on the Information State update view of dialogue. This is particularly convenient when experimenting with new modules e.g. interpreters or generation components which access dialogue state information (e.g. the last move). The Trindikit now allows asynchronous communication between modules. Current developments are designed to make it easier to plug and play different components in different programming languages, and to provide handles for integrating a variety of recognisers and synthesisers (recognisers used at the Siridus partner sites include Nuance, Dragon, and IBM ViaVoice and there are plans to also use the HTK Toolkit, synthesisers include IBM, Nuance and Festival).

Currently the Trindikit is supported under Linux and Solaris. On top of the Trindikit there are already several example dialogue systems, including a telephone operator system in Spanish, and a travel booking system in Swedish and English. A new system incorporating the Siridus approach to robust interpretation has been available on the website for the EU project, D'Homme. The current Trindikit can be downloaded from

User Group, Promotion and Awareness

The project has created an International Consultation and User Group (ICUG). All members will be invited to a Siridus workshop being organised for April 2002. Dissemination of project results has so far been primarily to the computational linguistics and dialogue community through conference papers and proceedings, including ACL2000, Gotalog, Bi-Dialog, NAACL 2001, SEPLN 2001. Siridus results have also been presented to the Speech Community at the WISP conference organised by the British Institute of Acoustics. A particularly good showcase for the project was the European Summer School in Logic Language and Information, advanced course on the Information State Approach to Dialogue Management: Theory and Implementation, where work in both Siridus and its predecessor project Trindi was presented to a wide audience.

Future Work

The  Siridus Project will run until the end of 2002. In 2002 we will provide:
  • The final telephone operator demonstrator
  • Evaluation of the information state based view of dialogue
  • Integrated demonstrator of robust interpretation and repair mechanisms
  • Demonstration of prosodically varied speech output using information from the information state
  • Revised toolkit for dialogue designers
  • Prototypes dialogue systems illustrating flexible dialogue

Further Information

Further information about the project, including publications and deliverables, can be obtained from the Siridus website or from the project administrative coordinator.

Administrative Coordinator

Marieke Schmitt,

Technical Coordinator

Robin Cooper,

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