Amazon Picks Alexa TaskBot Challenge Finalists
Amazon has chosen the 10 finalists for the Alexa Prize TaskBot Challenge the newest contest run by the voice assistant developer. The chosen teams are based in universities in the U.S., Europe and Asia, each with a voice app designed to handle multi-step, complex tasks conceived in a conversation with a user.
Taking On TaskBots
Each team’s entry is supposed to be able to perform as an aide for carrying out cooking and home construction and repair projects. The idea is to develop an AI that goes beyond the limited, single task per order system most voice assistants use. A TaskBot is supposed to extend the conversation and gain enough information from a user to complete a longer, more varied project. In this case, those tasks relate to home improvement and cooking. Both are good examples of sometimes long lists of tasks hidden in a brief request like “cook a meal” or “repair a chair.” The challenge is also multi-modal, so the teams will need visual components to go with the voice app.
“Alexa already assists millions of customers in goal-directed interactions, such as ‘Alexa, play ‘Your Power’ by Billie Eilish’, or ‘Alexa, what’s the weather forecast for the weekend? With this new Alexa Prize challenge, we are now turning to multi-step and multi-modal task completion that can span hours if not days,” Alexa Shopping vice president of research and science Yoelle Maarek said in a statement. “I am delighted to see that so many quality university teams have expressed interest in addressing this hard AI challenge. This is a wonderful example of our customer-obsessed science approach where we join forces with academia to push the boundaries of science with the goal of delighting our customers.”
The 10 winning teams are from: Carnegie Mellon University, National Taiwan University (NTU), NOVA School of Science and Technology (Portugal), Ohio State University, Texas A&M University, University College London, University of California Santa Barbara, University of Glasgow, University of Massachusetts (Amherst), and the University of Pennsylvania.
Each participating university team gets a $250,000 research grant and a bunch of Amazon tech services. The winning team will receive $500,000, with $100,000 and $50,000 for second and third-place teams. The judges will begin officially evaluating the competitors from September until May, with the winners announced next June.
DIY & Cooking
The challenge is supposed to run for three years, with new domains joining the two initial themes over time. The themes are all connected to Alexa’s long-term voice commerce plans. A voice app capable of guiding someone through making a meal or building a bed can help people shop for those projects too. That’s also why Whole Food Market and wikiHow are a part of the challenge. Whole Foods is a subsidiary and wikiHow has worked with Amazon on other projects, but both are contributing databases for the teams to use in the project.
“We are delighted to contribute our DIY content to this challenge, because the goal aligns so closely with our mission of teaching everyone in the world how to do anything. We can’t wait to see how the teams leverage our trusted step-by-step instructions to help customers successfully finish their tasks,” wikiHow CEO Elizabeth Douglas said. “We look forward to seeing the innovative ways that the Amazon Alexa TaskBot Challenge will help even more people learn how to do things.”