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Machine Processing of Dialogue States; Speculations on Conversational Entropy

Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNAI,volume 9811)


This keynote talk presents some ideas about ‘conversational’ speaking machines, illustrated with examples from the Herme dialogues. Herme was a small device that initiated conversations with passers-by in the Science Gallery at Trinity College in Dublin and managed to engage the majority in short conversations lasting approximately three minutes. No speech recognition was employed. Experience from that data collection and analyses of human-human conversational interactions has led us to consider a theory of Conversational Entropy wherein tight couplings become looser through time as topics decay and are refreshed by speaker changes and conversational restarts. Laughter is a particular cue to this decay mechanism and might prove to be sufficient information for machines to intrude into human conversations without causing offence.


  • Interactive speech synthesis
  • Human-machine-interaction
  • Conversational engagement
  • Laughter
  • Interactional entropy
  • Intrusive machines

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Fig. 1.


  1. 1.

    There was a large screen behind Herme’s stand showing passers-by what she could see, with a coloured circle drawn around each face in the scene.

  2. 2.

    A Roland Sound Canvas.

  3. 3.

    Lectures delivered under the auspices of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies at Trinity College, Dublin, in February 1943.

  4. 4.

    The idea that household devices might be capable of eavesdropping on nearby conversations is rightly anathema to many kitchen owners and occupants.


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This research is supported by Science Foundation Ireland under Grant No. 13/RC/2016, through the ADAPT Centre for Digital Content Technology ( at Trinity College, Dublin. We are grateful to the School of Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity College Dublin for their support of the Speech Communication Lab.

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Correspondence to Nick Campbell .

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© 2016 Springer International Publishing Switzerland

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Campbell, N. (2016). Machine Processing of Dialogue States; Speculations on Conversational Entropy. In: Ronzhin, A., Potapova, R., Németh, G. (eds) Speech and Computer. SPECOM 2016. Lecture Notes in Computer Science(), vol 9811. Springer, Cham.

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