To improve voice commands virtual assistant Alexa's capabilities, Amazon is holding an annual competition called “Alexa Prize” to invite college students to create a social chatbot on Alexa.
The goal of the competition is to create a chatbot that can talk about pop culture, news and events with users. For example, you can say “Alexa, let’s talk about…” to start your conversation, and topics can go from gossiping, baseball to daily headlines or fasion trends.
According to Amazon, the winning team will receive $500,000 prize. And with an additional $1 million prize if the students can successfully create the bot which can speak with humans “coherently and engagingly” for 20 minutes. Up to ten teams will get Amazon's sponsorships for a $100,000 stipend, Alexa-enabled devices, free AWS cloud services and support from the Alexa team.
The motivation for Amazon to hold this event, is to advance its conversational AI ability by outsourcing to the university talents. For Amazon, the capability of the conversational AI includes knowledge acquisition, natural language understanding, natural language generation, context modeling, commonsense reasoning, and dialog planning.
“A socialbot that can converse coherently for 20 minutes is unprecedented and at least five times more advanced than state-of-the-art conversational AI. This challenge and the immediate feedback students will receive on their best ideas from millions of engaged Alexa customers with make what we previously thought impossible, possible,” said vice president and head scientist of Amazon Alexa, Rohit Prasad, at the press release.
Alongside with Amazon's announcement, media outlet the Washington Post also introduced its collaboration with the event.
Competition participating students can get full access to the Washington Post's full digital content to build up the bot's knowledge base. Also, the media outlet also said to bring more contents to Alexa-enabled devices, including listen to the top stories, adding Cape Up and Presidential latest podcasts, and playing quizzes of the news of the week with an app curated by its editorial staffs.
Students will be able to build the bots using the developer tool, Alexa Skill Kit (ASK). The winner will be announced at Amazon's AWS re:invent event in November, 2017.
Last year, Amazon opened up Alexa to third-party developers to gather more applications on the platform. Currently, the virtual assistant has more than 3,000 skills and more is added soon.