Amazon Alexa Prize 2020 Announces Contest Dates
Amazon has updated its Alexa Prize home page with details about the third edition of the contest. In past years, The Alexa Prize has carried a total award purse of up to $2.5 million. University teams chosen from the applicant pool as competitors each receive $250,000 and Amazon Echo devices to use in their solution development. In 2017, 15 teams were selected by Amazon to compete and that number was reduced to eight teams in 2018. The winning team earned an award of $500,000, second place received $100,000, and third place $50,000. Cash awards are divided evenly among project team members.
Socialbots that Can Hold Humanlike Conversations
The Alexa Prize is billed as a “university competition to advance AI.” Competing teams use the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) to build a voice-interactive socialbot capable of conversing on popular topics. The program summary states:
“Competing teams will create socialbots that can converse coherently and engagingly with humans on a range of current events and popular topics such as entertainment, sports, politics, technology, and fashion.”
Each socialbot is evaluated by Alexa users and scores are recorded on a 1 to 5 scale. The ultimate goal of the prize is for a team to receive a 4.0 or higher average user rating and be capable of holding a conversation for 20 minutes. University of California, Davis’ team, Gunrock, won the 2018 competition with an average user rating of 3.1 (out of 5) and an average conversation length of 9 minutes and 59 seconds. The 2017 winners, Team Sounding Board, were from the University of Washington which delivered a 3.17 average user rating and average conversation of 10 minutes and 22 seconds.
Schedule Change Skips 2019 with Next Edition for 2020
The application period for the next Alexa Prize competition will begin on March 4th and conclude on May 14th. Competing teams will be announced in June 2019 and the teams will start their work in September. However, the actual winner won’t be announced until June 2020. This breaks from the earlier pattern of announcing the Alexa Prize winner at Amazon’s annual AWS Re:Invent conference typically held in late November in Las Vegas. It means there won’t actually be a 2019 Alexa Prize winner but instead, it will be a 2020 award.
With that said, the new schedule does line up better with a typical university calendar of September to May and may offer more focused time for the project teams to build better socialbots. It may also mean the Alexa Prize is moving to a biannual competition unless Amazon begins accepting new applicants next spring before the 2020 competition is completed.