Abstract

Various machine learning tasks can benefit from access to external information of different modalities, such as text and images. Recent work has focused on learning architectures with large memories capable of storing this knowledge. We propose augmenting generative Transformer neural networks with KNN-based Information Fetching (KIF) modules. Each KIF module learns a read operation to access fixed external knowledge. We apply these modules to generative dialog modeling, a challenging task where information must be flexibly retrieved and incorporated to maintain the topic and flow of conversation. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach by identifying relevant knowledge required for knowledgeable but engaging dialog from Wikipedia, images, and human-written dialog utterances, and show that leveraging this retrieved information improves model performance, measured by automatic and human evaluation.

1 Introduction

Machine learning approaches to various tasks, such as game-playing or dialog, are often dependent on external information. This information can take multimodal forms, including structured knowledge bases, free text, and images, and also comes in overwhelmingly large quantities. A pressing challenge is to create models that can identify which specific elements of multiple information sources are relevant in a particular context, and incorporate them into standard architectures on each task. In this work, we focus on human—machine dialog and how to efficiently retrieve external knowledge that is relevant to the dialog. We consider two scenarios and for each scenario, retrieve two types of knowledge: (i) knowledge about similar dialog contexts and (ii) external knowledge used to ground the conversation into real world information.

Knowledge about similar dialog contexts allows for a hybrid retrieval/generative approach to dialog where the system response is generated based not only on a representation of the current dialog context and of the relevant world knowledge, but also based on a response retrieved from a similar dialog context. The retrieved knowledge can be viewed as providing information about structure and dialog sentences, or utterances: which response is likely given a similar context?

External knowledge is also retrieved to improve the semantic content of the dialog model. In one scenario, Wizard of Wikipedia (Dinan et al.2018), general topics are provided to crowdworkers, who are asked to have in-depth and specific conversations about these topics by referencing specific Wikipedia sentences as knowledge. In this scenario, external knowledge is retrieved from a pre-selected set of Wikipedia sentences associated with the current dialog topic. Retrieval aims to select the sentence that is most relevant at each step of the dialog and thereby to ground system responses in relevant world knowledge (e.g., by referring to Star Wars when talking about science fiction).

In the other scenario, Engaging ImageChat Shuster et al. (2020), crowdworkers are provided with images and asked to have a conversation inspired by or about the image. In this case, the retrieved external knowledge is images and their associated dialogs. By retrieving images that are similar to the image being talked about, we aim to enrich system responses with knowledge about what is typically mentioned when describing similar images (e.g., when talking about an image with dogs, mentioning their breed).

Our work on incorporating different types and modalities of knowledge is related to methods that strive to add external memory, such as knowledge bases, to neural networks. Previous work has explored incorporating large external memories into neural network layers (Weston et al., 2015; Sukhbaatar et al., 2015, 2019; Lample et al., 2019). Many existing approaches focus on using attention over the memory slots, which is computationally intensive and becomes less effective as the the size of the memory grows. In this work, we propose representing multiple sources of external information as fixed encodings and using K Nearest Neighbors (KNN) search to fetch relevant information. KNN search is computationally efficient and scalable, and libraries like faiss Johnson et al. (2019) allow KNN to be easily used on GPUs and integrated into neural networks. Further, the external memories are pre-encoded, so the information encoding is only computed once. As the external memories are kept fixed, they do not require any training to learn the memories along with the model. We can thus scale easily to larger memories by learning only the KNN-based read operation to identify relevant information from the memory.

Our core contribution proposes an efficient, KNN-based Information Fetching (KIF) module that can access relevant external knowledge, combine knowledge from different sources, and integrate this information into standard sequence to sequence architectures. We apply these flexible modules to two dialog datasets that challenge generative models to leverage external information to write coherent, on-topic responses. Both of our chosen tasks require models to leverage external information, such as information from Wikipedia or images, to engage in the conversation. We show that relevant information can be identified from hundreds of thousands of candidates in a multimodal, multi-knowledge-source setting to improve the performance of generative dialog models. Further, the output of the KIF modules is interpretable as specific human-readable knowledge elements are selected, allowing users to better understand the information the generative model conditions upon when writing the subsequent utterance. On both datasets, we achieve state-of-the-art results compared to generative models and find there is no statistically significant difference in the interestingness or human preference of our model output compared to state- of-the-art retrieval models.

2 Related Work

We discuss related work on learning to incorporate external knowledge into neural networks and efficiently access relevant information. We then describe work in generative dialog that incorporates knowledge.

2.1 Incorporating External Knowledge

Augmenting neural networks with memory, or longer-term components that can be accessed with read and write operations, has been explored in various proposed architectures. For example, Memory Networks (Weston et al., 2015; Sukhbaatar et al., 2015, 2019) introduce attention mechanisms over large external memories. Neural cache models (Grave et al., 2017b) simplify these to access previous memories with a dot product. Previous work has also studied how to read and write into these memory architectures (Rae et al., 2016; Graves et al., 2014; Joulin and Mikolov, 2015). In contrast, we focus on how to read large memories.

Another line of research has focused on computational scalability for larger external memories to allow efficient access of information. For example, Chandar et al. (2016) propose a hierarchical memory network rather than a flat one and Rae et al. (2016) learn sparse operations to read and write. Lample et al. (2019) focus on learning memories of up to one million slots and how to efficiently access the slots using product keys. Khandelwal et al. (2019) use nearest neighbor operations to augment language models by performing retrieval at the token level—in contrast, we focus on multimodal retrieval of multiple pieces of knowledge based on an entire dialog context. Beyond explicit memory representations, it may be possible to store information implicitly during training time by memorizing common patterns present in text (Petroni et al., 2019). We focus on learning to fetch relevant information from multiple explicit external multimodal knowledge sources and integrate them into one network. Further, our work allows the retrieved information to be interpreted as each memory slot is an explicit fact that can be read as text, rather than a learned vector such as in Lample et al. (2019).

Work has also focused on computationally efficient softmax operations (Mnih and Hinton, 2009; Grave et al., 2017a; Chen et al., 2016). Many approximate softmax techniques use KNN-like operations to form clusters, and the overall softmax operation is constrained by the slow calculation of the exponential. Our usage of KNN benefits from efficient and scalable libraries such as faiss and nmslib.

2.2 Generative Dialog

We develop a general architecture for incorporating external information and apply it to the case of generative dialog models. Previous work in dialog has leveraged knowledge as necessary information to accomplish the task. For example, airline and restaurant booking tasks often use API calls to access information about reservation times and availability (Bordes et al., 2017). In contrast, our work focuses on how to incorporate unstructured knowledge, such as free text found on the Web. Previous work has used architectures that attend over the available knowledge and identify relevant pieces of information, which scales poorly with large quantities of information (Dinan et al., 2018; Qin et al., 2019; Lian et al., 2019). We replace the use of attention over external information with the output of a KNN module. Other work has investigated incorporating information retrieval in language modeling and question answering Chen et al. (2017); Fan et al. (2019); Seo et al. (2019); Guu et al. (2020), while we focus on dialog applications and flexibly incorporating knowledge from multiple, multimodal sources.

On the modeling side, work has explored both generative (Serban et al.2016a, 2016b) and retrieval based models (Zhang et al., 2018), which identify the best utterance from the training set to return as the dialog response. This often leverages self-attention or cross-attention mechanisms (Humeau et al., 2019). Further work has explored hybrid models, for example, using the output of a retrieval model as input for a generative model (Dinan et al., 2018; Weston et al., 2018; Cai et al., 2019; Zhu et al., 2020). Some of this work has specialized to use both types of models to generate conversations in an ensemble (Song et al.,2016) or to specifically improve consistency Song et al. (2020). We extend these approaches by augmenting generative models with retrieval-like operations based on KNN search, allowing dialog models to flexibly incorporate various sources of external knowledge at the same time and scale to large quantities of retrieval candidates.

3 KNN-based Information Fetching Modules

Broadly, the KIF module assumes an encoder model M can access inputs X = {x1,x2,…,xn}. For example, X can be a collection of sentences, and xi represents an individual sentence. In a setting without additional supporting information, the encoder will process an input xi and produce the encoder output M(xi). If xi is a sequence such as a sentence, then M(xi) is a representation of the variable size of the sequence length by the fixed size encoder M’s hidden size. However, in many tasks, additional information is present, represented as E = {e1,e2,…,em}. We encode each element of X and E into a vector representation using the encoder. To identify the closest information in E that is relevant to xi, our general approach will be to use KNN by comparing the representation of xi with the representation of each element in the set E. KNN is a fully differentiable operation (Plötz and Roth, 2018), so can be incorporated in a straightforward way into neural models. The most relevant information in E will then be available in the model. We display a KIF-Augmented model 1 in Figure 1 and describe how the KIF module operates.

Figure 1: 

KIF modules fetch relevant information from multimodal external knowledge. External knowledge sources E1 and E2 are pre-encoded by encoder M (green). In the model, input xi is encoded by encoder M′ (blue) to produce M′(xi). KIF modules (orange) operate on M′(xi) and identify the nearest neighbors encoded in M(E1) and M(E2) using KNN. Identified relevant elements from E1 and E2 are re-encoded by M′ in a gating mechanism with a weighted sum (represented by σ(WS1i) ⋅WS1i, where WS stands for weighted sum), then concatenated to M′(xi). Full description with notation can be found in Section 3.

Figure 1: 

KIF modules fetch relevant information from multimodal external knowledge. External knowledge sources E1 and E2 are pre-encoded by encoder M (green). In the model, input xi is encoded by encoder M′ (blue) to produce M′(xi). KIF modules (orange) operate on M′(xi) and identify the nearest neighbors encoded in M(E1) and M(E2) using KNN. Identified relevant elements from E1 and E2 are re-encoded by M′ in a gating mechanism with a weighted sum (represented by σ(WS1i) ⋅WS1i, where WS stands for weighted sum), then concatenated to M′(xi). Full description with notation can be found in Section 3.

One challenge to overcome is that the representation of all elements of the knowledge source E are pre-computed and kept fixed, creating M(E)—we do not backpropagate to affect the embeddings of the pre-encoded knowledge. In the early stages of training, the model receives large amounts of loss, which would affect the quality of the pre-encoded embeddings if we backpropagated to them. Further, encoding the fixed external knowledge once and re-using it allows for greater scalability. However, this lack of backpropagation can introduce a mismatch between the encoding of E and the encodings produced by a model that is training, as the training model has constantly changing representations because the weights are being learned. We use M to represent the original encoder model used to encode E and M′ to represent the constantly training model that is encoding X. The model must learn a function to align M′(xi) to the pre-encoded elements of the external memory M(E).

To circumvent this misalignment, we learn a mapping operator fE(M′(xi)) that trains to map elements of the model’s representation of X, or M′(X), into the additional information representation space M(E). Concretely, fE(M′(xi)) is a multilayer perceptron with ReLU nonlinearities. From the input elements of X, fE(M′(xi)) learns representations of an output close to the corresponding projection of X into E. This can be interpreted as learning a read operation on a fixed external memory. If there was no change to the encoding of the model compared to the pre-computed knowledge, then the ideal mapping operator would be the identity function (as M′ would equal M). However, as the model changes significantly during the training process, the nonlinear mapping capability of fE(M′(xi)) is essential to be able to identify the correct knowledge E from the input X.

Thus, a model augmented with KIF will incorporate external knowledge in the following manner. First, we find the k nearest elements to fE(M′(xi)) in M(E), based on KNN search with inner product. Then, the relevant elements identified by KNN are re-encoded by M′. For example, if element ej is retrieved by KIF, it would produce M′(ej). We use the optimized faiss library for KNN search, which can conduct billion-scale KNN efficiently on GPUs.

The KNN output for an element xi is produced by using faiss to search for the k nearest representations to fE(M′(xi)) in M(E). Note that as the encoders M and M′ produce output representations of variable length (for example, in the case where xi is a variable length sequence, such as a sentence), we average across the length dimension to produce a fixed-size representations r to conduct the KNN search.
rxi=AvgfE(M(xi))
(1)
RE=Avg(M(e))eE
(2)
KNNxi=KNearestk,rxi,RE
(3)
Then, the KIF module output for an element xi is the set of all re-encoded representations of the KNN-retrieved knowledge:
KIFxi=M(e)eKNNi
(4)
These elements are weighted by their normalized nearest neighbor scores and then summed. This is subsequently concatenated to M′(xi) to form the final encoder output:
[M(xi),WeightedSum(KIFi)]
(5)

This can be easily extended to using multiple modules simultaneously. For instance, two sources of external information, E1 and E2, can be combined by identifying the top candidates of each information source. The weighted sum of the KIF output on each information source is concatenated with the encoded input M′(xi). The KIF output dimensionality is the same size as the hidden size of M′(xi), so they can be directly concatenated.

Finally, different sources of information may not be required for every prediction and some information sources can be more important than others. To allow the model to make more fine-grained decisions about what information to use from what source, and how much of it, we add a gating mechanism using a sigmoid function around each weighted sum of KNN representations. KIF1i and KIF2i denote the KIF module from Equation (4) applied to E1 and E2, respectively.
WS1i=WeightedSum(KIF1i)
(6)
WS2i=WeightedSum(KIF2i)
(7)
which produces the final encoder output, a concatenation of M′(xi) with the output of multiple KIF modules:
M(xi),σ(WS1i)WS1i,σ(WS2i)WS2i
(8)

This concatenation represents the output of the encoder M′ and can be used for various purposes, such as providing the encoder output to a decoder in a sequence to sequence model.

4 Applying KIF to Dialog Tasks

We describe how to apply KIF to the task of generative dialog, a setting where models must generate engaging and on-topic responses. We investigate dialog for two reasons: First, dialog agents must be able to consult relevant information to maintain the topic of the conversation. Second, retrieval-based agents have strong performance compared to generative ones, due to their ability to copy dialog utterances from the training set. Using KIF, we can incorporate the benefits of retrieval architectures into generative, knowledge-based models.

4.1 KIF for Generative Dialog

In dialog, xi represents the text of the conversation i. A conversation consists of multiple back-and-forth utterances (or turns). For example, a conversation could consist of 4 turns: xi = [xi,1, xi,2, xi,3, xi,4] where xi,4 is the direct utterance the model should respond to, and the earlier utterances are the conversation context.

Standard generative dialog models use a Transformer neural network as the encoder M and want to produce an output that is an appropriate response to the conversation. However, in many cases, the conversation history alone does not include all of the information required to produce an appropriate response. For example, if a model needs to chat about a specific movie, it can be helpful to provide the model with more information about that movie so a more interesting dialog response could be produced. To incorporate knowledge, models often concatenate a knowledge source E such as Wikipedia to xi and use attention modules to identify the most relevant knowledge. However, this approach is computationally intensive when handling large quantities of information. Further, attention mechanisms have been found to operate poorly over long sequences, as the mechanism becomes blurry due to the softmax and struggles to make fine-grained decisions (Fan et al., 2018b). The same is true for hierarchical approaches, which lack scalability.

We augment Transformer sequence to sequence (seq2seq) networks on the encoder side with KIF to improve generative dialog models. We experiment on two dialog tasks, Wizard of Wikipedia (Dinan et al., 2018) and Engaging ImageChat (Shuster et al., 2020). In both datasets, models must leverage information external to the dialog history alone—in Wizard of Wikipedia, the chat requires access to knowledgeable facts and in Engaging ImageChat, discussion about a specific image. As models must process multiple inputs and ground responses in the knowledgeable facts or images, these tasks challenge existing seq2seq approaches.

4.2 Wizard of Wikipedia

The goal of the Wizard of Wikipedia dataset is to train knowledgeable agents that can chat in any domain. The dataset contains 1,365 various topics discussed in 18,430 dialogs in the training set, totalling 166,787 training utterances. Each topic is a general concept, such as dogs or ice cream, and is included as the first utterance of the conversation. The conversation is meant to be in-depth and detailed, so individual utterances must reference specific knowledge as a basis for the utterance. The knowledge takes the form of Wikipedia sentences. For example, the chat utterance I love Toy Story! It was released in 1995 would reference the Wikipedia sentence Toy Story is a 1995 American computer-animated buddy comedy […]. For each utterance, a set of sentences are identified by an information retrieval system, and the crowdworker selected one knowledge sentence as the basis for their utterance.

Knowledge Sources.

Our model for Wizard of Wikipedia has access to two sources of external information, E1 and E2:

  • • 

    E1 is Wikipedia Knowledge provided by the dataset as evidence to support knowledgeable chitchat (initially curated by the information retrieval system used in Dinan et al. [2018]). The scale of this KNN search is to filter through an average of 34 sentences. The KIF module uses dialog features to fetch relevant knowledge to condition upon to generate the subsequent utterance.

  • • 

    E2 is Training Utterances. To incorporate the benefits of retrieval-based dialog models to the generative setting, we use KIF to identify relevant utterances from the training set and take their responses as input. If many conversations about dogs have already occurred, models should be able to take advantage of these human-written examples to improve their generations. For example, likely conversation could occur about the breed of the dog, daily routine with a pet, and similar topics. There are around 170K dialog utterances as inputs to KNN search. This can be interpreted as incorporating the benefits of retrieval models by identifying an utterance with similar structure as the text the model would like to generate. We do not allow the module to fetch the correct response of the current conversation context.

Access to these two sources of knowledge can be seen as learning a template and a topic separately. Sample templates can be identified from the training utterances, and topic-specific information learned by accessing the Wikipedia knowledge.

Additional KNN Features.

To better identify relevant training utterances from the large quantity available, we break down xi into conversation sub-features for a more fine-grained match in the KNN search step. By conducting KNN on more features, we can achieve higher quality retrieval. We leverage the nature of dialog to decide these features.

We concatenate the encoding of the most recent dialog utterance (e.g., xi,last) with the encoding of the dialog context from the current conversation and the turn number t, such that M′(xi, last), M′(xi,-last), t is the representation used for KNN search. Concretely, if the model is trying to produce the 5th turn of the conversation, then xi, last is the most recent utterance from the dialog partner, xi,-last would be the last 3 turns of exchange, and t would be 4. Note that the turn number is represented as a standalone number. These are known to be salient conversation features. The most recent dialog utterance is the direct turn the model is responding to, and the dialog context may provide additional clues. The turn number is important, as earlier turns are often generic (e.g., how are you doing today) and later turns are more specific.

4.3 Engaging ImageChat

The goal of Engaging ImageChat is to create agents capable of chitchatting about images selected from the YFFC100M dataset (Thomee et al., 2016). The dataset contains 186,782 dialogs in the training set, each about a unique image, totalling 355,862 utterances. Agents are assigned one of 215 personalities (e.g., sweet, caring, excited) to increase engagingness. Previous work Shuster et al. (2020, 2019) identified that both crowdworkers and models, when provided with personalities, produced more diverse, interesting responses, as evaluated by humans.

We use a multimodal neural network designed to handle both image input and text input. Following Shuster et al. (2020), the images are encoded using a pre-trained ResNeXt network (Xie et al., 2017). To extract the final image representation, we project the 2048-dimensional output of the image encoder to 512-dimensions using a deep multilayer perceptron with ReLU activation units. The conversation history, which includes the one-word personality, is encoded with a Transformer encoder network. The image and conversation are integrated using the Multimodal-Sum-Combiner module proposed in Shuster et al. (2020).

Knowledge Sources.

Our model for Engaging ImageChat has access to two sources of external information, E1 and E2:

  • • 

    E1 is Chat on Similar Images. Although there are over 180K different images in this dataset, many of the images are similar. For example, conversations associated with two pictures of dogs could be relevant to each other. The model is able to use KIF directly on the current image features to fetch from around 180K different images and return 6 turns of related chat for each fetched image. Fetching from E1 consists of identifying related image chats, or conversations on related topics.

  • • 

    E2 is Training Utterances. Similar to the motivation for the previous dataset, we allow the model to identify training utterances that could be useful for responding in the current conversation. The scale of this fetching task is large: 350K dialog utterances. This could be interpreted as identifying utterances with similar structure to what the model would like to generate, and is complementary to the topic-based related image chats.

Additional KNN Features.

To identify relevant information from training utterances, we use the same dialog features as Wizard of Wikipedia in the KNN search step, with one modification: We add the personality provided by the dataset. We represent the personality feature as the personality word, such as caring, and embed it with the encoder M′. As utterances from speakers with the same personality are more likely to be similar, this feature improves the quality of the fetched information. For example, conversations with the sweet personality often include similar text such as aww, that’s wonderful. We use two additional features for the KNN search: t, the turn number, and p, the personality. This feature is explicitly used in Shuster et al. (2020) to improve the engagingness and flow of the conversation. Similar to Wizard of Wikipedia, we represent the conversation turn t as a number. The Transformer model is used to encode text xi and produce a representation of the text, then the turn number t and personality p are represented separately. As the personality is a word, we use the same Transformer to encode it. The concatenation of features used for KNN search is: M′(xi,last),M′(xi,-last),t,p.

5 Experimental Setup

5.1 Implementation Details

Parameter Settings.

We use parl.ai (Miller et al., 2017) to implement our models. The data for both datasets used is available for download from parl.ai as well. We use byte-pair encoding (Sennrich et al., 2016) to represent the text to better handle the rare word problem (Dinan et al., 2018; Fan et al., 2018a). Our generative Transformer models have 8 encoder layers and 8 decoder layers, with FFN size 2048, embedding dimension 512, and 4 attention heads. We optimize using Adam (Kingma and Ba, ) and the inverse square root learning schedule (Vaswani et al., 2017) with 10k warmup updates. The initial learning rate is 0.0001 and we optimize for model perplexity. We use a dropout of 0.5 and set gradient clipping to 0.1. We set k = 5 for all cases. For both datasets, we model a vocabulary size of 54,944 based on the BPE-based vocabulary from the Reddit pre-training. We tuned the learning rate and batchsize hyperparameters together.

Pre-training.

We pre-train the Transformer seq2seq model used for both datasets on 250M comments from Reddit. The Reddit dataset was made available by pushshift.io. The comments are parsed to maintain conversational threads of users responding to each other, so the encoder network has been exposed to conversational context at training time. Note that the Reddit dataset does not include aspects such as personality, as those are unique to specific datasets such as Engaging ImageChat. The context size in pre-training is set to 512 tokens. The ResNeXt encoder used to model images for the Engaging ImageChat dataset was pre-trained on 3.5 billion images (Mahajan et al., 2018).

5.2 Evaluation

Generation.

We generate with beam search, setting the beam size to 4. We use 3-gram blocking. This technique disallows repeated n-grams from being generated multiple times and reduces repetition.

Automatic Metrics.

Following Dinan et al. (2018), we compute F1, a metric of unigram overlap, between the generated utterance and the human-written reference utterance from the dataset. For generative models, utterances are generated using beam search. For retrieval models, the next utterance is predicted by ranking the entire set of training utterances, and the highest scoring utterance is chosen.

In Wizard of Wikipedia, there are two test sets: A set of seen topics, or topics that have been seen at training time with new test-time dialogs. The second set is unseen, or topics that have not been encountered at all during training time. We evaluate on both subsets.

Human Evaluation.

We follow the setup and use the analysis questions proposed in the Acute-Eval dialog evaluation system (Li et al., 2019). For reproducibility, we adopt this existing evaluation setting that has been applied to several dialog datasets. We use the question wording suggested by Acute-Eval and follow their self-chat procedure and interface. As one of the original datasets assessed in this system was Wizard of Wikipedia, their evaluation setting extends naturally to ours. We collect 100 human-bot conversational dialogs on a crowdsourcing platform for both datasets. The dialogs are eight turns long. Then, we show pairs of the collected conversations side by side, one conversation with a human and model A and the other conversation with a human and model B. We ask annotators the following questions:

  • • 

    Who would you prefer to talk to for a long conversation?

  • • 

    If you had to say one of the speakers is interesting and one is boring, who would you say is more interesting?

  • • 

    Which speaker sounds more human?

  • • 

    Which speaker has more coherent responses in the conversation?

  • • 

    If you had to say that one speaker is more knowledgeable and one is more ignorant, who is more knowledgeable? (Wizard of Wikipedia only)

We measure the percentage of time one model was chosen over the other, taking the majority agreement between three evaluators. To reduce variance, dialogs paired in the evaluation were collected on the same topic for Wizard of Wikipedia and collected on the same image and personalities for Engaging ImageChat. Topic and images selected for evaluation are unique and taken randomly from the test set.

5.3 Baselines

We compare Transformers augmented with KIF to other existing approaches on Wizard of Wikipedia and Engaging ImageChat. The best approaches, judged by human evaluation, are retrieval models, the Retrieval Transformer Memory Network from Dinan et al. (2018) and the Retrieval Transformer from Shuster et al. (2020). These have been shown to be strong baselines compared with other retrieval techniques based on TF-IDF Chen et al. (2017). Thus, we report the existing retrieval models for both datasets, but focus on comparing to other generative baselines.

We compare to three additional generative baselines. Note that in Wizard of Wikipedia, the construction of the dataset is that sentences of Wikipedia knowledge are provided with the utterances in a concatenated form. Models must identify the relevant information in this provided knowledge, or can access more Wikipedia knowledge beyond the provided sentences. The following baseline methods always have access to the information provided in the datas et already, but no additional Wikipedia knowledge beyond that.

  • • 

    Transformer Memory Networks. To contrast the ability of KIF to existing work, we compare our models to published Transformer Memory Networks (Dinan et al., 2018). These models encode each piece of external information independently with a Transformer Encoder, and these are stored as memory slots. To access information in the memory slots, a model performs dot-product attention between the memory slots and the dialog context. In Dinan et al. (2018), the knowledge selection from Wikipedia was supervised with either (a) a two-stage model where the first model was trained to predict the right knowledge and a second model conditions on the predicted knowledge to generate the next utterance, or (b) an end-to-end model with an auxiliary loss for knowledge prediction accuracy.

  • • 

    Retrieve and Refine. We implement a hybrid model (Weston et al., 2018) that incorporates top retrieval candidates as additional input to Generative Transformer MemNets. In Retrieve and Refine, a fixed number of candidates are retrieved and concatenated to the conversational history in the encoder, making the input much longer. For both datasets, the Retrieve and Refine mechanism that fetches a fixed number of training utterances is added to the Generative Transformer MemNet with Reddit Pre-Training baseline.

    Unlike the KIF-Augmented Transformer, the retrieval is conducted with a separate model so there is no backpropagation to affect the retrieval. With KIF, models can alter the retrieved candidates by learning the mapping operator. Further, a fixed amount of information is always retrieved, without the capability to easily rescale to focus on specific candidates. KIF modules have weighting mechanisms to focus more on certain information, and the modules are combined with gating so models can learn which knowledge sources are more important and adjust flexibly. Lastly, Retrieve and Refine is only used to retrieve one source of information: training set utterances.

  • • 

    Response Generation with MR. We implement the model proposed in Qin et al. (2019), which encodes the conversation history and document contextually with a biLSTM before generating the next dialog utterance. The initial model was applied to a machine reading task where a knowledge document was provided along with the conversation history. For Wizard of Wikipedia, we replace the knowledge document with the Wikipedia sentences provided in the dataset. The model then uses the conversation to identify the most relevant information in the document using a cross-attention mechanism. For the Engaging ImageChat dataset, as there is no document provided with the dataset, we replace the expected document with the conversation history, and use the most recent utterance in the conversation to attend to the conversation history.

    We make an additional improvement to this baseline: in Qin et al. (2019), the embeddings used pre-trained CoVE vectors McCann et al. (2017). We found our Reddit pre-trained Transformer embeddings to work more effectively as they are trained for dialog. Thus, we replace CoVE embeddings with domain-specific ones.

All of Transformer generative baselines are initialized with the same pre-training on Reddit that we use for our models for fair comparison on modeling quality.

6 Results

We describe the results of incorporating KIF modules into Transformer networks. We display an example conversation between a human and our model in Figure 4, and show the top scoring Wikipedia knowledge and Training Utterance fetched by KIF modules. We compare to various baselines using automatic and human evaluation, and discuss our experiments. We present various ablation settings to understand the key features that make our method function.

Figure 4: 

Conversation between Human and KIF-Augmented Transformer on Wizard of Wikipedia. The top-scoring Wikipedia knowledge and training utterances fetched by KIF are displayed with model output.

Figure 4: 

Conversation between Human and KIF-Augmented Transformer on Wizard of Wikipedia. The top-scoring Wikipedia knowledge and training utterances fetched by KIF are displayed with model output.

6.1 KIF is Effective for Incorporating Knowledge

Automatic Evaluation.

Comparing KIF augmented Transformer networks to published baselines and Retrieve and Refine, we find improved results.

For Wizard of Wikipedia, the improvement in F1 score over the best baseline is around 8 points (see Table 1). A major contributing factor is the construction of the dataset—as each dialog turn is grounded in a specific knowledge sentence from Wikipedia, improving the ability to identify the relevant fact strongly improves performance. Contrasting the results from the seen and unseen test sets in Table 1, the improvement on unseen is worse—it is harder to fetch training utterances for unseen topics.

Table 1: 
Results on the Wizard of Wikipedia dataset. We implement the Retrieve and Refine and Response Generation with MR approaches, all with Reddit Pre-Training, and evaluate them on Wizard of Wikipedia. The Seen test set consists of conversations on topics seen at training time, and the Unseen test set consists of conversations about new topics that were not in the training set.
ModelTest F1 (Seen)Test F1 (Unseen)
Retrieval Baselines 
Retrieval Transformer MemNet Dinan et al. (201815.4 12.4 
 
Generative Baselines 
2-Stage Generative MemNet Dinan et al. (201818.9 17.4 
Generative Transformer MemNet Dinan et al. (201816.9 14.4 
+ Reddit Pre-Training 17.6 16.3 
Retrieve and Refine Weston et al. (201818.2 17.9 
Response Generation with MR Qin et al. (201917.5 16.8 
 
KIF-Augmented Transformer 25.9 22.3 
ModelTest F1 (Seen)Test F1 (Unseen)
Retrieval Baselines 
Retrieval Transformer MemNet Dinan et al. (201815.4 12.4 
 
Generative Baselines 
2-Stage Generative MemNet Dinan et al. (201818.9 17.4 
Generative Transformer MemNet Dinan et al. (201816.9 14.4 
+ Reddit Pre-Training 17.6 16.3 
Retrieve and Refine Weston et al. (201818.2 17.9 
Response Generation with MR Qin et al. (201917.5 16.8 
 
KIF-Augmented Transformer 25.9 22.3 

While Imagechat has no explicit dependency on knowledge, we still see a 2 point improvement compared to the Generative Transformer MemNet (with the additional Reddit pre-training), indicating that KIF can be generally useful (see Table 2). Compared to an even stronger baseline that we tune in this work, Retrieve and Refine, we see 1 point improvement.

Table 2: 
Results on the Engaging ImageChat dataset. We implement the Generative Transformer Memory Network, Retrieve and Refine, and Response Generation with MR approaches, all with Reddit Pre-Training, and evaluate them on Engaging ImageChat.
ModelTest F1
Retrieval Baselines 
Retrieval Transformer Shuster et al. (20209.81 
 
Generative Baselines 
Generative Transformer MemNet Dinan et al. (20187.1 
+ Reddit Pre-Training 12.8 
Retrieve and RefineWeston et al. (201813.6 
Response Generation with MR Qin et al. (201913.2 
 
KIF-Augmented Transformer 14.4 
ModelTest F1
Retrieval Baselines 
Retrieval Transformer Shuster et al. (20209.81 
 
Generative Baselines 
Generative Transformer MemNet Dinan et al. (20187.1 
+ Reddit Pre-Training 12.8 
Retrieve and RefineWeston et al. (201813.6 
Response Generation with MR Qin et al. (201913.2 
 
KIF-Augmented Transformer 14.4 

Human Evaluation.

Results are shown in Figure 2. On both datasets, we find there is large improvement over existing generative models (green bars) that is statistically significant for some of the evaluation questions. Evaluators agree that KIF-augmented Transformers are generally more coherent and human-sounding compared to the Generative MemNet.

Figure 2: 

Human Evaluation Results on Both Datasets. More than 50% indicates the KNN Model is preferred. Stars indicate statistical significance at p < 0.05.

Figure 2: 

Human Evaluation Results on Both Datasets. More than 50% indicates the KNN Model is preferred. Stars indicate statistical significance at p < 0.05.

Comparison with existing retrieval models (shown in blue) is more nuanced. Along the lines of existing work (Zhang et al., 2018; Dinan et al., 2018), we find that retrieval-based models score very well in human evaluations that ask how human or interesting a dialog sounds. This is because retrieval models return human-written utterances from the training set and do not suffer from decoding mistakes present in generative models. For example, on Engaging ImageChat, while our model has significantly improved over the generative baseline (see green bars in Figure 2, right), it does not beat retrieval based methods in sounding more human or being more interesting (see blue bars in Figure 2, right). As the Retrieval baseline returns human-written text for other humans to evaluate, we hypothesize that humans score each other’s writing quite well. Compared with generative models, which we focus on improving, retrieval models often produce longer text with more interesting, nuanced vocabulary usage, and do not make generation mistakes such as repetition. These factors often lead to the stronger performance of retrieval models.

A surprising result is that KIF-augmented Transformers are more human sounding than retrieval models on Wizard of Wikipedia. This is because the dataset’s utterances are long and factual due to the tendency of crowdworkers to copy Wikipedia. Sometimes humans chatting with the retrieval bot would respond uh…that’s an interesting fact? Otherwise, our model scores similarly to retrieval models, with most evaluations not having statistically significant difference.

We conduct a second evaluation on the Unseen Test Set of the Wizard of Wikipedia dataset. Results are shown in Figure 3. Trends are similar compared to the results on the Seen Test set, though the preference for the KIF-augmented Transformer is greater over the retrieval baseline. We hypothesize that because the Unseen Test Set is on entirely held out topics, the retrieval baseline can struggle to identify relevant utterances. In contrast, the KIF-augmented Transformer, similar to the generative baseline from Dinan et al. (2018), can use the generative capability to produce utterances.

Figure 3: 

Human Evaluation on the Unseen Test Set of Wizard of Wikipedia. More than 50% indicates the KNN Model is preferred. Stars indicate statistical significance at p < 0.05.

Figure 3: 

Human Evaluation on the Unseen Test Set of Wizard of Wikipedia. More than 50% indicates the KNN Model is preferred. Stars indicate statistical significance at p < 0.05.

Lastly, we conduct an additional study to examine the variance of the comparative dialog judgements. The evaluation study for Wizard of Wikipedia is repeated three times on different days, and evaluators who have answered on previous days are not allowed to evaluate again in any subsequent experiments. Overall, we find reasonable interannotator agreement rates, around 73% averaged across all evaluations, which is similar to the agreement rates reported in Li et al. (2019). We find there is greater variance on questions asking which dialog is more human and more interesting, most likely as different evaluators can interpret these in different ways. Further, we see that comparison with the Retrieval model has less variance compared to the Generative model, possibly because the Retrieval model’s human written text is devoid of mistakes. Overall, we find that the conclusions (and statistical significance) are stable across multiple evaluations.

6.2 Analysis of Fetched Knowledge

Example conversations from our KIF-augmented generative model are shown in Figure 4 on Wizard of Wikipedia. We find that relevant knowledge is identified that affects the content of the generated utterance. For example, the model finds knowledge sentences about Disney movies as the human conversationalist starts the conversation discussing Disney. The model leverages the fetched knowledge to write the content of the generated utterance. In a concrete example, the fetched sentence disney announced intentions […] after the success of the incredibles leads the model to generate the utterance i love the incredibles, they are my favorite disney movie.

In contrast, the model uses the form of the fetched training utterance often as a template for writing a response. For example, the model copies the training utterance Ohhh …what do people with color blindness do to cope with the effects? and starts the model generation with Ohhh ... and continues with the question i think toy story is a classic? following the form of the selected training utterance.

Figure 5 displays the top-3 fetched training set utterances and knowledge sentences on the Wizard of Wikipedia dataset when responding to a human utterance. KIF modules can identify multiple relevant items. In response to the human question about blue skies the 1946 movie the model identifies both the comedy film and the band.

Figure 5: 

Examples of Top-3 Fetched Training Utterances and Fetched Knowledge when responding to a human chat from the dataset using a trained Wizard of Wikipedia model. Examples are taken from validation.

Figure 5: 

Examples of Top-3 Fetched Training Utterances and Fetched Knowledge when responding to a human chat from the dataset using a trained Wizard of Wikipedia model. Examples are taken from validation.

Finally, the elements retrieved by KIF modules provide a more interpretable understanding of what the model is conditioning upon to generate a dialog response. In Table 3, we display for the same dialog history, changing the model’s fetched training utterance and knowledge sentence for our own examples. The model heavily incorporates our manual changes of the fetched information into the generated utterance. For example, changing the knowledge directly affects what the model generates as the favorite character—from buzz lightyear to mr potato head to slinky dog—while changing the fetched training utterance changes the form of the generated sentence.

Table 3: 
Effect of Fetched Information on Generated Utterances. The top section provides examples for a fixed training utterance, changing the knowledge—the generated text maintains the construction of the training utterance but changes the favorite character to match the knowledge. The bottom section provides examples for fixed knowledge but changing the training utterance—the generated text modifies its form to match the training utterance, but the favorite character information remains consistent.
KnowledgeTraining UtteranceGeneration
buzz lightyear’s name is in honor of astronaut edwin ‘buzz’ aldrin my favorite character in that book series is hermione granger cool! my favorite character in that movie is buzz lightyear 
 
mr potato head is based on the real-life mr. potato head toy my favorite character in that book series is hermione granger my favorite character in that movie is real-life mr potato head 
 
slinky dog is a toy dachschund with a metal slinky for a body my favorite character in that book series is hermione granger cool! my favorite character is the slinky dog 
 
slinky dog is a toy dachschund with a metal slinky for a body i really like the character hermione granger cool! i really like slinky dog 
 
slinky dog is a toy dachschund with a metal slinky for a body my favorite character of all time has to be hermione granger i love that movie, my favorite character has to be slinky dog the dachshund 
 
slinky dog is a toy dachschund with a metal slinky for a body i agree with you! that’s my favorite character as well i think so too! my favorite is slinky 
KnowledgeTraining UtteranceGeneration
buzz lightyear’s name is in honor of astronaut edwin ‘buzz’ aldrin my favorite character in that book series is hermione granger cool! my favorite character in that movie is buzz lightyear 
 
mr potato head is based on the real-life mr. potato head toy my favorite character in that book series is hermione granger my favorite character in that movie is real-life mr potato head 
 
slinky dog is a toy dachschund with a metal slinky for a body my favorite character in that book series is hermione granger cool! my favorite character is the slinky dog 
 
slinky dog is a toy dachschund with a metal slinky for a body i really like the character hermione granger cool! i really like slinky dog 
 
slinky dog is a toy dachschund with a metal slinky for a body my favorite character of all time has to be hermione granger i love that movie, my favorite character has to be slinky dog the dachshund 
 
slinky dog is a toy dachschund with a metal slinky for a body i agree with you! that’s my favorite character as well i think so too! my favorite is slinky 

6.3 Scaling KIF to Challenging Retrieval Settings

KIF modules can be used in more realistic and challenging settings for knowledge retrieval that test the scalability of the module. In Figure 6(a), we compare the Generative Transformer MemNet Baseline with KIF-Augmented Transformers in three settings. The first is the standard Wikipedia sentences provided by the dataset (average 34 sentences). Then, we extend to providing the model with the full Wikipedia article (on average, 57 sentences) and finally to multiple Wikipedia articles (on average, totaling 205 sentences), identified using the conversation’s topic. This increasing size of available knowledge could be realistic for settings where it is unclear what information is most relevant, if filtering steps to preprocess the data remove potentially relevant information, or if information synthesis from multiple knowledge sources is necessary to produce a high-quality generation. As the Wikipedia knowledge becomes more difficult to identify, performance decreases, but still outperforms the baseline that uses the dataset-provided set of 34 sentences.

Figure 6: 

Ablations on Wizard of Wikipedia. (a) KIF can scale to hundreds of relevant sentences (blue) while the baseline model, the Generative Transformer MemNet (gray), scales poorly (b) Gating can remove irrelevant information. In the 3 Sources case, one source of external information is unrelated. (c) Performance as k varies.

Figure 6: 

Ablations on Wizard of Wikipedia. (a) KIF can scale to hundreds of relevant sentences (blue) while the baseline model, the Generative Transformer MemNet (gray), scales poorly (b) Gating can remove irrelevant information. In the 3 Sources case, one source of external information is unrelated. (c) Performance as k varies.

Comparing the scaling capability of KIF to the standard Generative Transformer MemNet Baseline highlights the advantage of using KNN. The attention-based mechanism used in Dinan et al.,2018 struggles to identify salient information when given increasingly larger quantities of knowledge, unlike the KNN information fetch. We hypothesize the attention mechanism is challenged by softmax-ing over a larger quantity of inputs, as it can be difficult to make sharp distinctions.

6.4 Ablations

Importance of Multiple Knowledge Sources.

One benefit of the KIF module approach is that several modules can be combined, each capturing information from a different source. In both settings, Wizard of Wikipedia and Engaging ImageChat, two modules were used to incorporate multiple forms of knowledge—training utterances to capture the capability of a retrieval-based model and knowledge from Wikipedia or related chats based on image features. We perform here an ablation study to evaluate the impact of using only one source of information. As can be seen in Table 4, performance decreases when only one source of information is used (see Table 4).

Table 4: 
Using Multiple KIF Modules on Multiple Sources is important for improved performance.
ModelTest F1
Wizard of Wikipedia 
Training Utterances Only 18.1 
Wiki Knowledge Only 23.9 
Training Utterances and Wiki Knowledge 25.9 
 
Engaging ImageChat 
Training Utterances Only 13.9 
Related Images Only 13.8 
Training Utterances and Related Images 14.4 
ModelTest F1
Wizard of Wikipedia 
Training Utterances Only 18.1 
Wiki Knowledge Only 23.9 
Training Utterances and Wiki Knowledge 25.9 
 
Engaging ImageChat 
Training Utterances Only 13.9 
Related Images Only 13.8 
Training Utterances and Related Images 14.4 

For Engaging ImageChat, this study also underlines the importance of being able to fetch in a multimodal fashion. The general form of the KIF module—requiring only a feature vector to find nearest neighbors from—allows fetching on multiple modalities such as text and images. In Table 4, using the Image-based KIF to fetch text from Related Images is important to reach the strongest performance (compare Training Utterances Only that uses text-based KIF and using both Training Utterances and Related Images).

Using Dialog Features for KNN Performance.

The quality of the KNN search is critical to the performance of KIF modules. As the external knowledge is kept fixed, KIF must be able to align the dialog context with the knowledge to identify relevant pieces of information. In Table 5, we show that matching on more features can improve the quality of the retrieved information. Using only the encoding of the immediate previous utterance can improve results on Wizard of Wikipedia by 7 F1 points, but this is further improved by also leveraging the encoding of context (+1.8 F1) and using the dialog turn number (+1 F1). These features are available in the datasets, and we leverage them to improve the relatedness of retrieved knowledge.

Table 5: 
Important Features for KNN Search using KIF. Salient conversation features improve performance on both datasets.
ModelValid F1
Wizard of Wikipedia 
Previous Utterance Only 24.6 
+ dialog Context 26.4 
+ Turn Embedding 27.4 
 
Engaging ImageChat 
Previous Utterance Only 13.3 
+ dialog Context 14.5 
+ Turn Embedding + Personality 15.1 
ModelValid F1
Wizard of Wikipedia 
Previous Utterance Only 24.6 
+ dialog Context 26.4 
+ Turn Embedding 27.4 
 
Engaging ImageChat 
Previous Utterance Only 13.3 
+ dialog Context 14.5 
+ Turn Embedding + Personality 15.1 

Multi-Hop Retrieval with KIF.

Work in memory networks Weston et al. (2015); Sukhbaatar et al. (2015) utilized multi-hop mechanisms. Such capacity could be useful when multiple sources are necessary or information is incrementally fetched. To emulate multi-hop memory mechanisms, we use KIF to retrieve relevant information for N = 2 or N = 3 fixed hops. As the number of hops is fixed, the multi-hop operation remains differentiable. We do not allow the model to retrieve the same information in a second hop.

We experimented in two settings. First, the same KIF module is used multiple times to fetch different information, and then all of the fetched knowledge is concatenated. Results are shown in Table 6 (top). Second, we examine spreading the fetches into different KIF modules at various encoder depths. This could be interpreted as the model learning to access more information each layer. As the model progresses deeper, more abstract and high level representations are built, which could allow different knowledge to be retrieved. Results are shown in Table 6 (bottom).

Table 6: 
Multi-hop with KIF to retrieve information with multiple fetch steps.
ModelValid F1
KIF-Augmented Transformer 27.4 
 
One KIF Module fetches multiple times 
2 Fetches 26.9 
3 Fetches 26.0 
 
Multiple KIF Modules fetch once each 
2 Fetches 26.5 
3 Fetches 25.9 
ModelValid F1
KIF-Augmented Transformer 27.4 
 
One KIF Module fetches multiple times 
2 Fetches 26.9 
3 Fetches 26.0 
 
Multiple KIF Modules fetch once each 
2 Fetches 26.5 
3 Fetches 25.9 

In both multi-hop settings, no improvement in performance on the Wizard of Wikipedia dataset is observed. We hypothesize that this can be partially attributed to the construction of the dataset—as humans explicitly based their written dialog utterance on one knowledge sentence. Further, it is possible that concatenation brings together too much information for the model to incorporate, and thus adding additional fetches makes the retrieval more noisy.

Effect of Gating.

We analyze the effect of the gating mechanism by evaluating the capability of the gate to identify and focus on salient information. On Wizard of Wikipedia, we concatenate a third source of information: dialog turns from a completely different corpus called PersonaChat (Zhang et al., 2018). This dataset looks quite different—short utterances without factual knowledge—and should be easy for the model to identify as distinct from Wizard of Wikipedia. As shown in Figure 6(b), if KIF on PersonaChat is included without gating, it has a harmful effect as the model includes irrelevant information. When equipped with gating, the model learns to use the gate to ignore some inputs, and can recover almost the full performance of a model without this irrelevant information source.

Size of K in KNN.

Figure 6(c) shows the performance on Wizard of Wikipedia when varying the amount of knowledge. Being able to access multiple relevant pieces of information is helpful, but too much information can be harmful. This is likely because the weighted sum becomes blurry if too many sentences are incorporated.

7 Conclusion

We present a KNN-based Information Fetching module that learns to identify relevant information from external knowledge sources by learning a mapping-based read operation. KIF modules benefit from the scalability and efficiency of KNN search, enabling computation with large external memories. We show in the context of two dialog datasets that relevant knowledge can be identified and incorporated to create more engaging, high-quality dialog.

Acknowledgments We thank the reviewers and action editor for their comments and insightful discussion. We thank Emily Dinan and Kurt Shuster for providing assistance to reproduce their original works.

Notes

1

In Shuster et al. (2020), retrieval Transformer models report Hits@N using a fixed candidate set of 99 distractor candidates and 1 true candidate. We compute F1 using their open-sourced model by scoring the entire training set of over 350K utterances with the model and taking the top scoring candidate as the response.

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