Amazon Offers College Students an AI Challenge

(Illustration: Shutterstock)

(Illustration: Shutterstock)

Amazon will award $1 million to the team of college students that can create a robot that can converse coherently with humans for 20 minutes.

Amazon on Sept. 29 announced the Alexa Prize, which challenges university teams to create a “socialbot,” a robot endowed with artificial intelligence that can speak on popular subjects and recent news events. The highest performing robot will receive a $500,000 prize. An additional $1 million grand prize will be given to the socialbot that can chat for 20 minutes. The teams must create the robots using the Alexa Skills Kit, a collection of self-service application program interfaces (API), tools, and code samples.

“People talk with each other regularly by exchanging stories about everyday events,” said Roger Schank, Professor Emeritus from Yale, Northwestern, and Stanford, in an Amazon press release. “Something you say reminds me of something that I now want to say. Having the context to discuss everyday topics comes naturally to humans, but must be learned by conversational AI. I am excited about the Alexa Prize and the scientific advances that will emerge from the contest.”

The challenge will conclude at Amazon Web Services’ re:invent event in November 2017. Amazon will sponsor 10 of the participating teams, providing them with a $100,000 stipend, Alexa-enabled devices, free AWS services, and support from the Alexa team.

Teams will have access to topics and content from multiple sources, including the complete newsfeed of The Washington Post. Millions of Alexa customers will engage the socialbots in conversation and provide feedback to the teams, weighing the machine’s language understanding and generation, context modeling, commonsense reasoning, and dialogue planning. They will also recommend the bots that will advance to the final live judging phase.

“The Alexa Prize challenges students to build socialbots that can acquire knowledge and opinions from the Web, and express them in context just as a human would in everyday conversations,” said Rohit Prasad, vice president and head scientist of Amazon Alexa, in the press release. “A socialbot that can converse coherently for 20 minutes is unprecedented and at least five times more advanced than state-of-the-art conversational AI. This challenge and the immediate feedback students will receive on their best ideas from millions of engaged Alexa customers will make what we previously thought impossible, possible.”

 

Eleanor Lamb
About Eleanor Lamb
Eleanor Lamb is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Big Data, FITARA, Homeland Security, Education, Workforce Issues, and Civilian Agencies.
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