Conversational interfaces have emerged as a new way to interact with AI assistants on smartphones, smart speakers, and other devices. However, to what extent are these systems truly conversational? And if not, do they really need to be anyway? In this talk I will outline the capabilities of current conversational interfaces and assess the extent to which they model important conversational phenomena such as follow-up questions, changes of topic, out-of-scope utterances, and mixed-initiative dialogue. Generally conversational interfaces are categorised as either task-oriented, for example, to assist with making a hotel booking, or as entertainment-based, for example, to engage in chit-chat. However, another category of conversational interface is emerging in which the assistant takes part in a conversation in order to solve a problem, for example, to provide support and advice in a healthcare context. I will discuss the technical and other challenges we face in developing this new type of conversational interface.
Michael McTear is an Emeritus Professor at Ulster University with a special interest in spoken language technologies. He has been researching in the field of spoken dialogue systems for more than 20 years and is the author of several books, including Spoken Dialogue Technology: Toward The Conversational User Interface (Springer, 2004), Spoken Dialogue Systems (Morgan and Claypool, 2010), with Kristiina Jokinen, and The Conversational Interface: Talking to Smart Devices (Springer, 2016), with Zoraida Callejas and David Griol. Michael has delivered keynote addresses and tutorials at many academic conferences and workshops, and is a regular presenter at the annual SpeechTEK conference. Currently Michael is involved in several research and development projects investigating the use of conversational agents in socially relevant projects such as mental health monitoring, home monitoring of the elderly, and the management of obesity.