General

What is Alexa?

Alexa is the voice service that powers devices such as Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Amazon Tap, Amazon Fire TV and other third-party devices through the Alexa Voice Service including Nucleus, Sonos and Pebble Core. Alexa provides capabilities that enable customers to interact with devices in a more intuitive way using voice. Examples of these capabilities, or skills, include smart home products, the ability to play music, answer general questions, set an alarm or timer, and thousands more. Alexa is built in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud and it is always getting smarter. The more customers use Alexa, the more she adapts to speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences.

Why did Amazon create the Alexa Prize?

The Alexa Prize, an annual university competition dedicated to accelerating the field of conversational artificial intelligence (AI), was created to recognize students from around the globe who are changing the way we interact with technology. The goal is to advance several areas of conversational AI including knowledge acquisition, natural language understanding (NLU), natural language generation (NLG), context modeling, commonsense reasoning and dialog planning. Through the innovative work of students, Alexa customers will have novel, engaging conversations. And, the immediate feedback from Alexa customers will help students improve their algorithms much faster than previously possible.

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Socialbot

What is a socialbot?

While definitions vary, in the context of the Alexa Prize, a socialbot is an Alexa skill that engages customers in a conversation about popular topics such as Entertainment, Fashion, Politics, Sports, and Technology.

Can I choose to build any type of conversational bot?

 

No, this competition focuses solely on socialbots. Your socialbot will need to converse about a wide range of topics provided by Amazon and not only topics of your choosing. You will develop your own technologies relevant to your approach, such as natural language understanding, dialog management, knowledge acquisition, commonsense reasoning, conversational planning, machine learning, natural language generation, etc. Only far-field automatic speech recognition (ASR) and text-to-speech (TTS) will be provided by Amazon.

     

What will my socialbot do?

 

Your socialbot will be an Alexa skill that converses coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics and news events. Alexa users, in the U.S., will ask to converse with your socialbot about a current topic of interest to them, such as baseball playoffs, celebrity gossip, or scientific breakthroughs. For example:

   
  • User: Let’s chat about the Mars Mission.
  • Socialbot: There are multiple Mars missions, some public and some private.
  • User: Who do you think will succeed?
  • Socialbot: I think more than one will succeed. The first one to get to Mars will open the doors for others.
  • User: I’d love to go to Mars.
  • Socialbot: Me too. Luckily I can hitch a ride on any computer.
  • User: That’s very funny.
  • Socialbot: The biggest challenge isn’t technology, it’s funding. It will cost $500 billion to send humans to Mars.
 

Your socialbot will continue turn-by-turn interaction, starting with the topic the user asked for, until the user chooses to stop. Like an everyday human conversation, the interaction may shift naturally to related topics, as in the above example, but the conversation should remain coherent, relevant, and engaging. The goal is to keep the conversation from deteriorating to the point where the user loses interest.

 

How will I build my socialbot?

 

You will use the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) to build an Alexa skill, hosted on AWS Lambda, that will create the end-to-end conversational experience for a user. Using the provided APIs, your skill will receive as input the text of the user’s utterance, and produce as output a text sentence that will be spoken to the user. You do not need to tackle ASR (automatic speech recognition) or TTS (text to speech).

 

Your skill will need to determine an appropriate response at each turn of the conversation. It will also need to keep up with current events using the provided data sources. You may use additional data sources or libraries if you wish, subject to the terms described in the official rules.

How will my application be evaluated?

All applications will be reviewed by a panel of Amazon employees. Teams will be selected based on the following criteria: (1) the potential scientific contribution to the field; (2) the technical merit of the approach; (3) the novelty of the idea; and (4) an assessment of the team’s ability to execute against their plan. Please be sure to provide enough detail in your application to enable our experts to evaluate your proposal.

What is the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK)?

The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) is a collection of free, self-service APIs, tools, documentation, and code samples that make it fast and easy for you to add skills to Alexa. Your team will use ASK to build, deploy, and test socialbots with millions of Alexa customers.

What is the Alexa Voice Service (AVS)?

Alexa Voice Service (AVS) is Amazon’s intelligent cloud service that allows you as a developer to voice-enable any connected product with a microphone and speaker. Customers can talk to their Alexa-enabled products to play music, answer questions, get news and local information, control smart home products and more.

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Competition details

What is the goal of the challenge?

The goal of the challenge is to advance several areas of conversational AI including knowledge acquisition, natural language understanding (NLU), natural language generation (NLG), context modeling, commonsense reasoning and dialog planning. The grand challenge for the 2017 Alexa Prize is to create a socialbot that converses coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes.

How will winners be selected?

Midway through the competition, a semifinal round will take place in which an Amazon panel and Amazon Alexa customers will evaluate all socialbots that have been certified and published. Two socialbots selected by Amazon Alexa customers and at least one socialbot selected by the Amazon panel will advance to the finals.

During the finals in November of 2017, the finalist teams will compete head-to-head in front of three judges. The judges will score the socialbots on their ability to converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes.

Will this competition be judged like a Turing Test?

No. The goal of the Alexa Prize is to create socialbots that engage in interesting, human-like conversations, not to make them indistinguishable from a human when compared side-by-side. While the socialbots built for the Alexa Prize will be human-like in some respects, they will be very different in others, and could easily reveal themselves in a Turing Test. For example, socialbots may have ready access to much more information than a human. Asking the socialbots to act human could diminish the customer experience and hinder the efforts of the participants to build the best socialbot to further conversational AI.

When and where is the final event?

The final judging will be held in November 2017 at a location to be determined. Winners will be announced at a special session at re:Invent 2017, a global cloud computing conference hosted by Amazon Web Services.

Can we use other funding to help us participate in this challenge?

Yes, you may use other funding to support your team. External funding will need to be disclosed by August 15, 2017.

How will I build my socialbot?

Your team will build its socialbot with new Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) APIs created specifically for the Alexa Prize, AWS Lambda, and your choice of AWS or other web services.

Customers, in the U.S., will speak with your socialbot via an Alexa-enabled device. Your socialbot will receive text output from Alexa’s automatic speech recognition (ASR) algorithms and produce a text response which will be spoken back to the customer via Alexa’s text to speech (TTS) system.

Can we use technology other than AWS to host our socialbot?

Your team may build its socialbot in any framework of your choosing, but the socialbot must be hosted on AWS Lambda to leverage the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK).

Will Alexa customers be able to engage with our socialbot?

By March 31, 2017, your team will be required to submit its socialbot for certification and publication by the Amazon Alexa team. This will allow Amazon Alexa customers to try your socialbot and provide feedback to you.

Amazon launched the Echo in the UK and Germany. Will localized languages be supported?

Your team must build its socialbot using U.S. English.

Will Amazon pay for expenses related to the final event if we are a finalist?

Amazon will subsidize travel and lodging expenses for up to three members per finalist team plus their faculty advisor to travel from the city where their university is located to attend the awards ceremony at AWS re:Invent 2017.

Will we publish our research from the Alexa Prize?

Yes. Publishing research papers as an outcome of your work on the Alexa Prize is required for all teams participating in the competition, although teams should not publish Amazon confidential information, as described in the Official Rules. The Alexa Prize requires all teams to submit a 6-page paper for the Alexa Prize proceedings prior to August 15, 2017. Your socialbot will not be selected for the finals if your team does not submit a technical paper for Alexa Prize proceedings. Papers will be published at AWS re:Invent 2017.

Teams may also publish research papers in third-party publications and conferences, as long as all papers are provided to Amazon for review at least two weeks before the submission deadlines and no research papers are published before AWS re:Invent 2017 without Amazon’s prior approval.

Who will own the intellectual property rights in my submission?

You will retain ownership over your socialbot. Amazon will have a non-exclusive license to any technology or software you develop in connection with the competition. See the Official Rules for details.

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Participation

Who can apply to participate?

The Alexa Prize is open to full-time students enrolled in an accredited university, with the exception of universities in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and the region of Crimea (see contest rules). Proof of enrollment will be required to participate.

Can I participate if I don’t attend a university?

No. The 2017 Alexa Prize is open only to full-time enrolled university students.

Do I need to be enrolled in a university program throughout the duration of the competition?

All participating team members must remain full-time students in good standing at their university until the competition ends in November 2017.

Do I need to be a certain age?

Participants must be at or above the age of majority in the country, state, province or jurisdiction of residence at the time of entry.

Can I enroll if a family member is an Amazon employee?

Immediate family members and household members of Amazon employees, directors and contractors are not eligible to participate. See Official Rules for additional restrictions.

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Teams

How many teams will be selected to participate?

All applications will be reviewed and evaluated by a panel of Amazon experts. Up to 10 teams will be selected and sponsored by Amazon. Additional teams not eligible for funding may be invited to participate.

What if our team is not selected for funding but is invited to participate?

Teams not eligible for funding, but invited to participate, will have access to the new Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) APIs created specifically for the Alexa Prize which will enable them to receive continuous feedback on their inventions in real-world settings. We also encourage all non-sponsored teams to take advantage of the AWS Free Tier (which includes AWS Lambda).

The AWS Free Tier is designed to enable hands-on experience with AWS Cloud Services. The AWS Free Tier includes services with a free tier available for 12 months, as well as additional service offers that do not automatically expire at the end of the 12 month AWS Free Tier term.

After creating an AWS account you can use any of the products and services listed here, for free within certain usage limits.

How many team members can our team have?

There are no minimum or maximum team member requirements. All team members must be enrolled in their university throughout the duration of the competition. Sponsored teams will receive a $100,000 stipend regardless of how many members are on the team.

Can students from different universities be on the same team?

Teams must be comprised of students attending the same university.

Can one university have more than one team?

Yes, universities may have more than one team.

Can I participate on two separate teams?

You can only be a part of one team for the duration of the competition.

Can undergraduate and graduate students work together?

Yes, teams may be comprised of undergraduate and graduate students.

Do I need a faculty advisor?

All teams must nominate a faculty advisor and include the faculty advisor’s consent in the applications.

What is the role of the faculty advisor?

Faculty advisors will advise students on technical directions and be a sounding board for new ideas, similar to a graduate school advisor. They will also act as the official representative from the university for this competition.

Can we add or remove team members during the competition?

No additional team members will be added through the course of the competition. A member may drop from the team. In that scenario, the faculty advisor may suggest a replacement team member, subject to approval by Amazon.

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Application process

Note: The application period for the 2016-2017 Alexa Prize ended on October 28, 2016 at 11:59 PM PT.

How do we apply?

Begin the application here

What do we need to apply?

Once you have selected your team members, team leader, and faculty sponsor, you are ready to begin the application process. To see the questions, you can preview a PDF of the online application.

Do all team members have to apply?

Each team must have a team lead, who should apply on behalf of the whole team. Your application must include all of your team members’ information.

Is there an application fee?

There is no application fee.

How will teams be selected to participate?

All applications will be reviewed by a panel of Amazon employees. Teams will be selected based on the following criteria: (1) the potential scientific contribution to the field; (2) the technical merit of the approach; (3) the novelty of the idea; and (4) an assessment of the team’s ability to execute against their plan.

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Prizes

What are the prizes?

A prize of $500,000 will be awarded to team that creates the best socialbot. See contest rules for details.

A prize of a $1 million research grant will be awarded to the winning team’s university if their socialbot achieves the grand challenge of conversing coherently and engagingly with humans for 20 minutes.

Do we get a stipend and devices to participate in the Alexa Prize?

Up to 10 teams will be sponsored to participate in the Alexa Prize. These teams’ universities will receive $100,000 as a research grant to fund the team members’ work over the year.

The sponsorship includes one Alexa-enabled device per team member for up to a total of three devices per team and one Alexa-enabled device per faculty advisor, free AWS services to support the development of their socialbot and support from the Alexa team.

What happens if we are selected and receive a stipend but can no longer participate?

In the event your team can no longer participate, your faculty advisor may use those funds to support a new team for the rest of the competition period. Stipends will be awarded in two installments of $50,000 payable to the university. If your team withdraws before the second installment, funds will not be transferred to the university.

How will the prizes be distributed among a team?

The $500,000 prize will be distributed equally among all registered team members. Failure to disclose a team member on the application form will disqualify your team.

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Timeline

What are the key milestones of the competition?

Teams must submit their applications between September 29 and October 28, 2016. On November 14, 2016, we will announce teams selected to receive sponsorships. In the spring of 2017 teams will be invited to an Alexa Prize Summit at Amazon where they will receive live feedback to improve their socialbots. The semifinals will be scheduled in August 2017. The final event of the competition will take place in November 2017.

If selected, when will we receive the stipend, devices, access to the new Alexa Skills Kit APIs, our AWS account and be introduced to our point of contact?

We will reach out to all teams starting on November 14, 2016, with instructions on next steps. Up to 10 teams will be selected to receive a $100,000 stipend, Alexa-enabled devices, free AWS services to support their development efforts, and support from the Alexa team. Additional teams not eligible for funding may be invited to participate.

See the full competition rules
or submit your questions

Need Assistance? Email: alexaprizesupport@amazon.com

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