Amazon Launches $2.5 Million Alexa Prize to Advance AI

Amazon has announced the launch of the Alexa Prize, a $2.5 million competition dedicated to accelerating advancements in conversational artificial intelligence.

The inaugural competition will invite teams of university students to build a "socialbot" using Alexa — the voice service that powers Amazon Echo speakers — that can converse with people about popular topics and news. The team with the best-performing bot will win a $500,000 prize — and will have a shot at an additional $1 million if the bot can meet the grand challenge of conversing coherently and engagingly with humans for twenty minutes.

Participants will have access to conversational topic categories and digital content from multiple sources, including the Washington Post, which has agreed to make its complete news feed and comments available to student teams for non-commercial use. As part of the research and judging phase of the competition, millions of Alexa customers will have the opportunity to converse with the bots on popular topics by saying, "Alexa, let’s chat about…" for example, the baseball playoffs, or celebrity gossip, or recent scientific breakthroughs. After the conversation has ended, users will be invited to give feedback on the experience, providing valuable input that can be used by teams to improve their bots. Feedback from Alexa users also will be used to help select the bots that advance to the final, live-judging phase.

The competition will conclude in November 2017, with up to ten teams earning a sponsorship from Amazon, a $100,000 stipend, Alexa-enabled devices, free services from Amazon Web Services, and support from the Alexa team.

"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 at Amazon Alexa. "A socialbot that can converse coherently for twenty 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."