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The Information-Level annotation provides an abstract characterization of the content of the utterance. In task-oriented dialogs, we can roughly divide utterances into those that address the task in some way, those that address the communication process (Communication-management), and those that do not fall neatly into either category (Other-level). In addition, we can subdivide the first category into utterances that advance the task (Task) and those that discuss the problem solving process or experimental scenario (Task-management).



The majority of utterances in most domains involve performing the task that is the reason for the dialog, such as making an airline reservation or scheduling a meeting. Utterances whose content is at the Task level directly move ahead (or attempt to move ahead) the goals of the domain. Each different domain must specify clearly what the task is and characterize the types of activities that occur while doing the task. It is not possible to make the level distinction without this information. As an example, in TRAINS the domain involves developing plans to move trains and cargo from one city to another. Examples of utterances at the Task level include questions about the state of the world (e.g., ``Is there a train at Avon?'', ``When will it arrive?''), suggestions of routes (e.g., ``Let's send the engine at Bath to Corning''), utterances discussing the plan (e.g., ``That won't work because there's a long delay in Pittsburgh''), and utterances that ask about general properties of the domain such as questions about capabilities (e.g., ``How many boxcars can an engine carry'', ``Can two trains run on the same track at the same time?'').

Task Management

Utterances at this level explicitly address the problem solving process and experimental procedure. This includes utterances that involve coordinating the activities of the two speakers (e.g., ``Are you keeping track of the time?'', ``Let's work on getting the train to Avon first'', ``Forget about that problem for a while''), asking for help on the procedures (e.g., ``Do I need to state the problem?'') or asking about the status of the process (e.g., ``Are we done?''). In domains where the task involves building a plan such as TRAINS, it is important to distinguish between utterances that concern the plan, which are Task level, and utterances that involve the problem solving process, which are Task-management level. For instance, consider a situation in a TRAINS dialogue where a plan has been proposed; a question ``will that work?'' will be a Task level utterance because evaluating possible plans is part of the task.


Utterances at this level include conventional phrases that maintain contact, perception, and understanding during the communication process, and include greetings (e.g.,``hello''), closings (``Good Bye''), acknowledgments (e.g., ``Okay'', ``uh-huh'' or repeating part of what the speaker said), stalling for time (e.g., ``Okay'', ``Let me see''), or signals of speech repairs (e.g., ``oops'') or misunderstandings (``sorry?'', ``huh?''). They also might address the communication process explicitly, say to establish the communication channel (e.g., ``Are you there?'', and answering with ``I'm here''), to address communication problems (e.g., ``I didn't hear/understand what you said''), or to explicitly manage delays or maintain the turn (e.g., ``Wait a minute'').


This tag indicates that the utterance unit does not fall neatly into the Task, Task-management, or Communication-management category even though it may be relevant to the dialog. Jokes, non-sequitors, and small talk would fit into this category.


In coding this dimension, you should remember that every utterance has a Communication component in some sense, but that utterances should be marked at the Communication-management level only when they make no direct contribution to solving the task. In other words, Communication-management level utterances are concerned exclusively with maintaining the conversation and if they were removed, the conversation might be less fluent but would still have the same content relative to the task and how it was solved. For instance, the greeting ``hi'' could be considered at the Task level in the sense that it starts the process of performing the task. Removing the utterance, however, would have no significant effect on the task or the way it was performed, thus we know its function is mainly at the Communication-management level.

Sometimes it is tricky distinguishing between Task-management and Communication-management, as utterances at either level may not add content directly relevant to the Task. For example, consider the utterance ``Sorry for taking so long'' which causes problems because it can be interpreted as apology both for not answering quickly enough (Communication-management) or for slowing down the interaction (Task-management). If you think that such an utterance has a component of both readings, however, then it should be labeled as Task-management.

Making the distinction between Task and Task-management can also be tricky in dialogues where the task involves solving a problem and/or developing a plan. Since the task involves building and evaluating plans, utterances such as ``does the plan work?'', and ``how does that sound'' should be marked at the Task level. Utterances referring to the current problem to be solved should also be labeled Task: ``what is the problem'', ``the problem is we need to get two boxcars of oranges to Avon'', ``we have to get two boxcars of bananas to Corning'', ``is there a time limit'', etc. The utterances that are the most complicated appear to have interpretations at both levels. For instance, the utterance ``does that solve the problem?'' could be intended as a request to check if the plan should work (a Task level utterance) or might be intended to ask whether the session is done (i.e., a paraphrase of ``Are we done with the task?'' which is an Task-management level utterance). In cases where it seems to do both, we will mark it at the Task-management level.

Note that when answering a question at one level, the answer is usually, though not always, at the same level. Question-answer pairs can occur naturally at these levels as seen in the following examples:

Task: utt1: u: How long does it take to get to Corning?
  Task: utt2: s: Three hours.
  Task-management: utt1: u: Do I have to state the problem?
  Task-management: utt2: s: Yes.
  Communication-management: utt1: u: Can you hear me.
  Communication-management: utt2: s: Yes

next up left folder
Next: Forward Looking Function Up: Utterance-Tags Previous: Communicative-Status

Mark Core
Mon Sep 22 20:05:25 EDT 1997