User Simulation

Evaluating interactive intelligent systems

FnTIR book CIKM'23 tutorial AAAI'24 tutorial WWW'24 tutorial

User Simulation for Evaluating Information Access Systems

Authors: Krisztian Balog and ChengXiang Zhai Status: under review for Foundations and Trends in Information Retrieval Draft:

Information access systems, such as search engines, recommender systems, and conversational assistants, have become integral to our daily lives as they help us satisfy our information needs. However, evaluating the effectiveness of these systems presents a long-standing and complex scientific challenge. This challenge is rooted in the difficulty of assessing a system’s overall effectiveness in assisting users to complete tasks through interactive support, and further exacerbated by the substantial variation in user behaviour and preferences. To address this challenge, user simulation emerges as a promising solution. This book focuses on providing a thorough understanding of user simulation techniques designed specifically for evaluation purposes. We begin with a background of information access system evaluation and explore the diverse applications of user simulation. Subsequently, we systematically review the major research progress in user simulation, covering both general frameworks for designing user simulators, utilizing user simulation for evaluation, and specific models and algorithms for simulating user interactions with search engines, recommender systems, and conversational assistants. Realizing that user simulation is an interdisciplinary research topic, whenever possible, we attempt to establish connections with related fields, including machine learning, dialogue systems, user modeling, and economics. We end the book with a detailed discussion of important future research directions, many of which extend beyond the evaluation of information access systems and are expected to have broader impact on how to evaluate interactive intelligent systems in general.


The material has been/will be presented in the form of tutorials at various conferences.