UCSB and Stanford Win Top Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge 5 Awards

Amazon has declared the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) the winner of the Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge 5 (SGC5) and $250,000 for GauchoChat. The fifth Grand Challenge also added a new prize for scientific invention and innovation, awarding first place and $250,000 to Stanford University’s Chirpy Cardinal team.

Socialbot 5

The Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge seeks out teams to develop Alexa bots that can carry out complex conversations on different subjects and mimic how humans talk. Stevens Institute of Technology and their NAM socialbot received $50,000 for coming in second, while Alquist scored Czech Technical University $25,000 in third place. The nine academic teams in this latest round competed against each other for the top spot but were also trying to meet the Grand Challenge, which 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.

“This is high recognition to our efforts during the past eight months for the deployment, testing, and optimization on our socialbot,” UCSB GauchoChat team leader Hang Wong said. “Additionally, it is also strong proof of the effectiveness and user-preference towards our bot.”

Amazon added a new facet to the socialbot competition this year, adding a separate prize for scientific invention and innovation. The same socialbots competed for both prizes, with a chance of winning either or both. The teams sent in short summaries of scientific experiments and results at the end of the competition for review and then presented their findings to Amazon scientists in a Science and Innovation Review Panel. The Alexa team updated Amazon’s Conversational Bot Toolkit, Cobot, in tandem with the new scientific competition. The augmented version of CoBot includes several upgrades and offers more models, a modular setup, and plug-and-play software. Chirpybot took first place, with the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Athena in second place, and Virginia Tech’s HokieBot at third, earning $50,000 and $25,000, respectively.

“This year, SGC teams have pushed the boundaries of conversational AI by harnessing the potential of large language models to craft robust open-domain socialbots and identified key opportunities to enhance LLMs for building the next-generation interactive and multi-modal conversational AI assistants,” Alexa AI senior principal scientist Alexa Prize head Reza Ghanadan said. “I’m very proud to see the extraordinary commitment and tireless effort of students from diverse SGC teams worldwide, leveraging the CoBot AI platform and tools to conceptualize, experiment, and validate their scientific innovations using real-world online feedback they received from Alexa customers,”

The Alexa Prize was created in 2016, with 2017 becoming the first award year. Team Alquist from Czech Technical University won the last contest, preceded by Emory University and its Emora socialbot, the University of California, Davis’ Gunrock socialbot, and the University of Washington’s Sounding Board program. All of the teams chosen to compete received a $250,000 research grant, including Alexa devices, free Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other tools, and a connection to Alexa developers for support.

“Their journey of learning, collaboration, and growth throughout the nine-month program has been truly remarkable,” Ghanadan said. “As evidenced in this year’s socialbot proceedings, SGC5 teams have made significant scientific contributions in advancing the science of human-AI Interaction, demonstrating their socialbot innovations in the real-world environment.”

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