Amazon is challenging universities to create a chatty Alexa skill and it's offering a $2.5 million prize pool to make it worthwhile.
Alexa, the company's popular virtual assistant, can already to a slew of cool stuff and it's gradually getting smarter. Amazon wants to make it chattier too, however, and it wants college kids to help it "advance conversational artificial intelligence."
The company's attractive $2.5 million prize pool is for college students who come up with technology that would enable Alexa to talk naturally, conversing with people about news events and popular topics. Simply put, the goal of this contest is to build the best "socialbot" to get Alexa talking.
Alexa is the voice-controlled service at the heart of Amazon Echo, allowing users to intuitively interact with the world around them simply by uttering voice commands. While Alexa's current capabilities are nothing to scoff at, Amazon thinks it can do much more.
The company points out that conversational AI is at the core of a big transformation that can revolutionize the way humans interact with machines. The competition aims to explore Alexa's untapped potential to make it chattier and more social.
"The inaugural competition is focused on creating a socialbot, a new Alexa skill that converses coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics and news events," Amazon explains. "Participating teams will advance several areas of conversational AI including knowledge acquisition, natural language understanding, natural language generation, context modeling, commonsense reasoning and dialog planning."
The team that comes up with the best socialbot will win a $500 prize. If the socialbot is able to hold an engaging and coherent conversation with people for 20 minutes, Amazon will offer $1 million. Amazon will sponsor up to 10 teams and give them a $100,000 stipend. The company will also provide Alexa-enabled devices, free access to Amazon Web Services, as well as support from the Alexa Skills Kit team, so that participants have all they need to get creative.
Amazon is also including regular Alexa customers in the challenge by making them part of the process. Customers will be able to chat up the socialbots on popular topics and give feedback to help students enhance the socialbots and ultimately choose the winner.
Interested college students can submit their applications between Sept. 29 and Oct. 28, 2016. The participants will be announced on Nov. 14, 2016, when the competition will kick off. The contest will end and Amazon will announce the winner in November 2017.