InterSpeech 2021

Ethical and Technological Challenges of Conversational AI

Pascale Fung (Honk Kong University of Science & Technology)
Abstract Conversational AI (ConvAI) systems have applications ranging from personal assistance, health assistance to customer services. They have been in place since the first call centre agent went live in the late 1990s. More recently, smart speakers and smartphones are powered with conversational AI with similar architecture as those from the 90s. On the other hand, research on ConvAI systems has made leaps and bounds in recent years with sequence-to-sequence, generation-based models. Thanks to the advent of large scale pre-trained language models, state-of-the-art ConvAI systems can generate surprisingly human-like responses to user queries in open domain conversations, known as chit-chat. However, these generation based ConvAI systems are difficult to control and can lead to inappropriate, biased and sometimes even toxic responses. In addition, unlike previous modular conversational AI systems, it is also challenging to incorporate external knowledge into these models for task-oriented dialog scenarios such as personal assistance and customer services, and to maintain consistency. With great power comes great responsibility. We must address the many ethical and technical challenges of generation based conversational AI systems to control for bias and safety, consistency, style, knowledge incorporation, etc. In this talk, I will introduce state-of-the-art generation based conversational AI approaches, and will point out remaining challenges of conversational AI and possible directions for future research, including how to mitigate inappropriate responses. I will also present some ethical guidelines that conversational AI systems can follow. Bio Pascale Fung is a Professor at the Department of Electronic & Computer Engineering and Department of Computer Science & Engineering at The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (HKUST), and a visiting professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. She is an elected Fellow of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) for her “significant contributions towards statistical NLP, comparable corpora, and building intelligent systems that can understand and empathize with humans”. She is an Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) for her “contributions to human-machine interactions”, and an elected Fellow of the International Speech Communication Association for “fundamental contributions to the interdisciplinary area of spoken language human-machine interactions”. She is the Director of HKUST Centre for AI Research (CAiRE), an interdisciplinary research center on top of all four schools at HKUST. She is the founding chair of the Women Faculty Association at HKUST. She is an expert on the Global Future Council, a think tank for the World Economic Forum where she started to advocate for AI ethics issue since 2015. She represents HKUST on Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society. She was invited as an AI expert to the UN panel on Lethal Autonomous Weapons, the UN Economic and Social Council, and various EU official panels. She is a member of the IEEE Working Group to develop an IEEE standard - Recommended Practice for Organizational Governance of Artificial Intelligence. She is on the Board of Governors of the IEEE Signal Processing Society. Her research team has won several best and outstanding paper awards at ACL, ACL and NeurIPS conferences and workshops. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the ACL Rolling Review system and the Diversity and Inclusion Chair of Neurips 2021.