Open-domain conversational search assistants: the Transformer is all you need

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3 Citations (Scopus)


On the quest of providing a more natural interaction between users and search systems, open-domain conversational search assistants have emerged, by assisting users in answering questions about open topics in a conversational manner. In this work, we show how the Transformer architecture achieves state-of-the-art results in key IR tasks, leveraging the creation of conversational assistants that engage in open-domain conversational search with single, yet informative, answers. In particular, we propose a complete open-domain abstractive conversational search agent pipeline to address two major challenges: first, conversation context-aware search and second, abstractive search-answers generation. To address the first challenge, the conversation context is modeled using a query rewriting method that unfolds the context of the conversation up to a specific moment to search for the correct answers. These answers are then passed to a Transformer-based re-ranker to further improve retrieval performance. The second challenge, is tackled with recent Abstractive Transformer architectures to generate a digest of the top most relevant passages. Experiments show that Transformers deliver a solid performance across all tasks in conversational search, outperforming several baselines. This work is an expanded version of Ferreira et al. (Open-domain conversational search assistant with transformers. In: Advances in information retrieval—43rd European conference on IR research, ECIR 2021, virtual event, 28 March–1 April 2021, proceedings, Part I. Springer) which provides more details about the various components of the of the system, and extends the automatic evaluation with a novel user-study, which confirmed the need for the conversational search paradigm, and assessed the performance of our answer generation approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-148
Number of pages26
JournalInformation Retrieval Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Answer generation
  • Conversational search
  • Query rewriting
  • Re-ranking
  • Transformers


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