Rethinking Conversational Recommendations: Is Decision Tree All You Need?

by   A S M Ahsan-Ul Haque, et al.

Conversational recommender systems (CRS) dynamically obtain the user preferences via multi-turn questions and answers. The existing CRS solutions are widely dominated by deep reinforcement learning algorithms. However, deep reinforcement learning methods are often criticised for lacking interpretability and requiring a large amount of training data to perform. In this paper, we explore a simpler alternative and propose a decision tree based solution to CRS. The underlying challenge in CRS is that the same item can be described differently by different users. We show that decision trees are sufficient to characterize the interactions between users and items, and solve the key challenges in multi-turn CRS: namely which questions to ask, how to rank the candidate items, when to recommend, and how to handle negative feedback on the recommendations. Firstly, the training of decision trees enables us to find questions which effectively narrow down the search space. Secondly, by learning embeddings for each item and tree nodes, the candidate items can be ranked based on their similarity to the conversation context encoded by the tree nodes. Thirdly, the diversity of items associated with each tree node allows us to develop an early stopping strategy to decide when to make recommendations. Fourthly, when the user rejects a recommendation, we adaptively choose the next decision tree to improve subsequent questions and recommendations. Extensive experiments on three publicly available benchmark CRS datasets show that our approach provides significant improvement to the state of the art CRS methods.


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