Alexa Prize Finalists

Amazon Unveils Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge Finalists

Amazon announced the five finalists for the Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge 4 this week. The teams, each from a different university, were picked as the best of the competitors shortlisted back in November, and now have a greater shot at the biggest share of more than a million dollars in prize money and grants Amazon has earmarked for the winning contestants and their academic institutions.

Social Competition

Each team had to create a socialbot, a conversational AI designed to mimic human interaction on complex or difficult subjects as much as possible. The socialbots have to handle a such conversation for a minimum of 20 minutes, but winning requires an AI that can converse for as long as possible without making it obvious that it isn’t a human. The socialbots were made available on Alexa this year to the judges and anyone interested in trying them out and sharing their ratings and opinions. The Socialbot 3 competitors garnered more than 240,000 hours of conversation all told.

Four of the five finalists are from the U.S., apart from the Czech Technical University in the Czech Republic. The Russian and Spanish competitors not making the cut this time. The other finalists include teams from Stanford University, State University of New York Buffalo, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Emory University, the winner of the last Socialbot contest. Emory, Stanford and UC Santa Cruz made it to the finals because they had the highest average customer ratings, while SUNY Buffalo and Czech Technical University earned ‘wild card’ slots based on evaluation by the judges.

“We are incredibly excited to be in the SGC4 finals and have learned so much on our journey so far!” Stanford team leader Ethan Chi said in a statement. Whether it’s late-night debugging, in-depth user interviews, or just plain old writing dialogue, our entire team has really enjoyed our experience chatting to hundreds of thousands of Alexa customers.”

Talking Up

Emory University’s win nabbed it a $500,000 grand prize last year and it is going up against some of the same schools as last time when Stanford came second and Czech Technical University came third. Emory was preceded by the University of California, Davis, and its Gunrock socialbot and the University of Washington’s Sounding Board program. This year’s winner will be announced next month. The socialbot challenge is one of several contests Amazon runs to attract new ideas and talent for Alexa. The Alexa Skills Challenge for Kids, the Alexa Life Hack Challenge, and the new Taskbot Challenge, whose finalists were picked in May, are all part of Amazon’s efforts to boost Alexa’s capabilities and developer network.

“I’m extremely proud to have such a talented team of students,” Emory University faculty advisor and assistant professor Jinho Choi, said. “It’s a group of strongly motivated people with the right combination of diverse skills coming together at the right time. They’re working on changing the paradigm for conversational artificial intelligence. The experience that users have with our chatbot, Emora, will be largely different from chatbots based on state-machine approaches.”


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