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Amazon launches ‘Alexa Prize’ to give university students a chance to build conversational AI bots and snag $2.5 million

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With the launch of its voice-enabled assistant Alexa, Amazon has leap-frogged towards making artificial intelligence ubiquitous in households today. But to further upgrade the social intelligence of Alexa, the company is now turning towards university students to design and build ‘socialbots’ for the platform.

While Alexa is pretty smart and can help you out with most day-to-day tasks but Amazon feels that they can further bolster it with some help from outside. Thus, the company has today announced that it is launching an annual university competition ‘Alexa Prize’ which will offer students a chance to build advanced conversational AI models, for a chance to snag $2.5 million. The competition is open for university students all across the globe.

For the inaugural of this university competition series, the company wants engineers to create a socialbot that can coherently converse with humans on popular topics and news events. The main aim of the bot is to be socially aware and active, for the users to experience truly novel, engaging conversational interactions.

The challenge is to create a socialbot, an Alexa skill that converses coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes. We challenge teams to invent an Alexa socialbot smart enough to engage in a fun, high quality conversation on popular topics for 20 minutes.

says Ashwin Ram, Senior Manager, Alexa AI in the blogpost.

Participating teams will need to use the Alexa Skills Kit(ASK), that will not only help them advance several areas of conversational AI but also provide them access to numerous content resources to build the knowledge base of their bots. The compnay will make the corpus of content from The Washington Post, a publication owned by Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, available to engineers.

Once the development and training of the socialbot is complete, Amazon will allow teams to test and evaluate the conversational abilities of their bots in real life, with real Alexa-powered devices like Echo or the Echo Dot. If you own an Echo, you can directly say “Alexa, let’s chat about,” and then pick a specific topic to converse with the newly deployed socialbot. After the conversation is over, the users will be asked to submit feedback which will eventually decide which teams will progress to the final rounds.

This competition gives the engineering teams plenty of time, and will run for a complete year. During the development period, Amazon will select upto ten teams to receive a $100,000 research grant. To support their development, the company will also provide them with Alexa-enabled devices, free AWS services and support from the ASK team. It might also invite additional teams to participate in the final event, scheduled to be held alongside the November 2017 AWS re:invent conference.

The registrations for the competition are now open and university teams can submit their applications between September 29 and October 28, 2016. The engineering team whose socialbot can hold a ‘coherent conversation’ with humans for  about 20 minutes will be eligible for a $500,000 money grant.


A hands-on guy fascinated by new apps, technologies and enterprise products.

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