On September 29, 2016, Amazon announced the Alexa Prize, a $2.5 million university competition to advance conversational AI through voice. We received applications from leading universities across 22 countries. Each application was carefully reviewed by senior Amazon personnel against a rigorous set of criteria covering scientific contribution, technical merit, novelty, and ability to execute. Teams of scientists, engineers, user experience designers, and product managers read, evaluated, discussed, argued, and finally selected the ten teams who would be invited to participate in the competition. Wait, make that twelve; we received so many good applications from graduate and undergraduate students that we decided to sponsor two additional teams.
Today, we’re excited to announce the 12 teams selected to compete with an Amazon sponsorship. In alphabetical order, they are:
These teams will each receive a $100,000 research grant as a stipend, Alexa-enabled devices, free Amazon Web Services (AWS) services to support their development efforts, access to new Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) APIs, and support from the Alexa team. Teams invited to participate without sponsorship will be announced on December 12, 2016.
We have challenged these teams to create a socialbot, a conversational AI skill for Alexa that converses engagingly and coherently with humans for 20 minutes on popular topics and news events such as Entertainment, Fashion, Politics, Sports, and Technology. This seemingly intuitive task continues to be one of the ultimate challenges for AI. Teams will need to advance several areas of conversational AI including knowledge acquisition, natural language understanding, natural language generation, context modeling, commonsense reasoning and dialog planning. We will provide students with data and technical support to help them tackle these problems at scale, and live interactions and feedback from Alexa’s large user base to help them test ideas and iterate their algorithms much faster than previously possible.
Achieving natural human conversation is a scientific marathon, not a sprint, but there will be many exciting rest stops along the way. Scientific advances will be published to allow the broader community to build on the work of Alexa Prize teams. Millions of Alexa customers will experience first-hand the ideas and innovations created by the students. And students will have an opportunity to delight end users with novel, engaging conversational experiences that bring us one step closer to the vision of the Star Trek computer that inspired Alexa.
As teams gear up for the challenge, we invite all of you to think about what you’d like to chat with Alexa about. In April, you and millions of other Alexa customers will be able to test the socialbots and provide feedback to the teams to help them create a socialbot you’ll want to chat with every day. Your feedback will also help select the finalists. In the meantime, follow the #AlexaPrize hashtag and bookmark our site for updates.
As we say at Amazon, this is Day 1 for the Alexa Prize. The $500,000 annual prize and $1 million grand challenge await. Good luck to all the teams!