Alexa Prize

Amazon Announces Alexa Prize Socialbot Competitors

Amazon revealed the colleges that will compete for the Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge today. Ten teams from around the world will compete for the chance at large cash grants and opportunities to integrate their ideas into Amazon’s future plans.

Socializing Alexa

The competing teams are all working on socialbots, programs that will let users have longer, more complex conversations with Alexa. While the voice assistant has access to a wide array of information, the process of interacting with it can be very mechanical. Amazon is keen to further develop Alexa’s ability to engage in informal conversations, as the prize attests.

The goal for the schools competing is to make a socialbot that can interact with people for 20 minutes at a high rate of speed and comprehension. The mix of artificial intelligence, natural language generation, and dialogue writing involved is daunting to consider, but crucial if people are going to use them in everyday life.

Eyes on the Prize

This is the third iteration of the competition, and the award purse of up to $2.5 million drew plenty of competitors. Winning universities earn a $1 million grant, while the winning team is awarded $500,000, with smaller prizes for second and third place. The University of Washington won in the first year for their Sounding Board program, and last year the team from the University of California, Davis won the competition with their socialbot, Gunrock. This year, the competitors include:

  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Czech Technical University in Prague
  • Emory University
  • Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology
  • Stanford University
  • University of California, Davis
  • University of California, Irvine
  • University of California, San Diego
  • University of California, Santa Cruz
  • University of Michigan

Schools from 15 countries applied to participate this year. Half of the schools selected are located in Californian. Emory, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Michigan were among non-Californian American schools that made the list, although a Russian and a Czech school will also join the competition.

Extra Competitive

The socialbot competition isn’t Amazon’s only attempt to sponsor new ideas for Alexa. The Alexa Skills Challenge for Kids and the Alexa Life Hack Challenge have both brought new blood and new concepts to Alexa’s development. The contests have also served the goal of growing the overall community of Alexa developers, which is a central goal for Amazon. Rohit Prasad, vice president, and head scientist, Alexa artificial intelligence, said this week that there are now hundreds of thousands of Alexa developers. Making Alexa more social in turn makes it easier to get people to try other skills and integrate Alexa, and other Amazon products, into their lives.

Alexa users can try out the previous winners of the competition by saying, “Alexa, let’s chat.” The current competitors will roll out the early versions of their socialbots starting in September. Users can test them out, and the teams will get real-time feedback on how well their creations are doing, in order to improve them as they work until the winners are announced in June 2020.


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