Alexa Prize

Amazon Chooses New Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge Contestants

Amazon has picked nine contestants to compete in the Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge 4. Each team now has a chance to show off their socialbot for a shot at a bigger share of the million dollars worth of prizes offered by Amazon to contestants and the academic institution they represent.

International Social

The contestants are mostly from the U.S., but Russia, Spain, and the Czech Republic are in the mix as well. The socialbots are designed to carry out complex conversations on different subjects, mimicking humans convesation and contributing to Alexa’s affability. Each team’s socialbot will be available to converse with anyone interested in trying out the bots early next year. Those who try out the bots will be asked to rate and share their opinion of the socialbot to help the team improve their creation.

The contest’s judges will narrow the list to a few finalists in next July before unveiling the winners in August.The competeing socialbots all have to be able to sustain at least 20 minutes of that conversation, but the winners will be those bots that can hold longer conversations without betraying their artificial origins too obviously. In the last iteration of the contest, the socialbots spoke with people for more than 240,000 hours. Just for making it this far, each team has earned a $250,000 research grant, and in-kind prizes like Alexa devices, Amazon Web Services support, and other technical tools.

“Voice assistants such as Alexa have significantly advanced the state of the art for goal-directed interactions, such as ‘Alexa, what’s the weather forecast for today’? or ‘What was the score of yesterday’s Seahawks game’?” Alexa AI Natural Understanding vice president Prem Natarajan said in a statement. “These advances notwithstanding, multi-turn, open-domain conversations remain an unsolved problem. We launched Alexa Prize four years ago with the aim of engaging some of the brightest faculty and students in academia to advance conversational AI science with an emphasis on open-domain conversations. Each year, the teams have made substantial advances in the state of the art, and we are excited by the quality and ambition of the applications we have received this year.”

Challenging Chances

Emory University won the third edition of the competition this year, earning the $500,000 grand prize. Emory followed the University of California, Davis, and its Gunrock socialbot and the University of Washington’s Sounding Board program to the top spot, but the contest is open to any school around the world. Emory beat an initial 15 competitors, and Amazon had previously said there would be 10 this time, but may have not found more programs that would qualify. The socialbot challenge is one of several contests Amazon runs to attract new ideas and talent for Alexa, along with the Alexa Skills Challenge for Kids and the Alexa Life Hack Challenge, and the Lego Mindstorms Voice Challenge: Powered by Alexa. Just this week, the Art Museum Alexa Skill won $20,000 in the Alexa Skills Challenge: Alexa Conversations contest. The chosen contestants and their homebases for the Grand Challenge this time include five previous contestants and four newcomers, including:

Alquist – Czech Technical University

Athena – University of California, Santa Cruz

Chirpy Cardinal – Stanford University

DREAM – Moscow Institute of Physics & Technology

Emora – Emory University

CASPR – The University of Texas at Dallas

Genuine² – Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

PROTO – SUNY at Buffalo, New York

Viola – University of Southern California


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