Amazon Opens Expanded Alexa Prize SocialBot Grand Challenge for Submissions
Amazon has announced the Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge 5 will open from July 6 to October 5 for academic institutions interested in competing. The fifth Grand Challenge adds a new scientific invention and innovation award to the overall performance battle, with a total $1 million prize purse.
Amazon will announce the official participants and begin the contest in November. The challenge will run until next summer, with finalists picked in July, and the winners unveiled in August. Each team will submit a socialbot for Alexa designed to carry out complex conversations on different subjects and mimic how humans talk as closely as possible. The goal of the competition overall is to improve Alexa’s casual conversation and make the AI feel more human to users.
The Alexa Prize began in 2016, with Team Alquist from Czech Technical University winning the most recent iteration and its $500,000 prize. CTU was preceded by earlier winners Emory University and its Emora socialbot, the University of California, Davis’ Gunrock socialbot and the University of Washington’s Sounding Board program. This year’s winning team will earn $250,000, with $50,000 and $25,000 prizes for second and third place, respectively. All of the teams chosen to compete will get a $250,000 research grant, including Alexa devices, free Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other tools, and a connection to Alexa developers for support.
The teams are competing to outperform each other, but winning the Grand Challenge requires the socialbot to earn a composite user rating of at least 4.0 out of 5 and sustain a minimum of 20 minutes of conversation with the judges where at least two-thirds of that conversation matches a human’s pace and coherence. No team so far has completed the Grand Challenge and its $1 million prize pot, though they have edged closer with each new competition.
Amazon added a new facet to the socialbot competition this year, adding a separate prize for scientific invention and innovation. The same socialbots will compete for both prizes, with a chance of winning either or both. The teams will send in short summaries of scientific experiments and results at the end of the competition for review by Amazon scientists. After the socialbot finals, chosen teams will present their research to a Science and Innovation Review Panel before answering questions posed by Alexa AI scientists. As with the socialbot competition, the top science project team gets $250,000 and second and third place receive $50,000 and $25,000.
The Alexa team updated Amazon’s Conversational Bot Toolkit, Cobot, in tandem with the new scientific competition. CoBot is built for scientific research with a streamlined setup and infrastructure combining the Alexa Skills Kit, Amazon Web Services’ cloud-computing tools, and the natural-language-processing models of the Alexa Prize Toolkit Service. The augmented version of CoBot includes several upgrades and offers more models, a modular setup, and plug-and-play software. You can find out more about applying to the Alexa Prize, or try out previously submitted socialbots, by saying, “Alexa, let’s chat” to an Alexa-enabled device.