Generative Retrieval for Conversational Question Answering

Information Processing and Management | , Vol 60(5)

Effective passage retrieval is crucial for conversation question answering (QA) but challenging due to the ambiguity of questions. Current methods rely on the dual-encoder architecture to embed contextualized vectors of questions in conversations. However, this architecture is limited in the embedding bottleneck and the dot-product operation. To alleviate these limitations, we propose generative retrieval for conversational QA (GCoQA). GCoQA assigns distinctive identifiers for passages and retrieves passages by generating their identifiers token-by-token via the encoder–decoder architecture. In this generative way, GCoQA eliminates the need for a vector-style index and could attend to crucial tokens of the conversation context at every decoding step. We conduct experiments on three public datasets over a corpus containing about twenty million passages. The results show GCoQA achieves relative improvements of +13.6% in passage retrieval and +42.9% in document retrieval. GCoQA is also efficient in terms of memory usage and inference speed, which only consumes 1/10 of the memory and takes in less than 33% of the time.