UK team among the three finalists, with a $500,000 prize at stake for the most convincingly conversational “socialbot”
Amazon has fired the starting gun on the finals of its Alexa Prize, an annual competition to develop the best conversational artificial intelligence (AI), opening up the three finalists to the conversationally curious.
Curious Computer Business Review readers can now step up to their nearest Alexa-powered device and say “Alexa, let’s chat” to open a chat with one of the three anonymised finalists, selected at random.
The three finalists include a team from the UK’s Heriot-Watt University (Alana), comprising eight PhD candidates and faculty advisors, led by doctoral student Amanda Cercas Curry.
During the semifinals period, which started on July 2, 2018 and ended on August 15, 2018, Alexa customers could interact with the socialbots then provide a rating from 1 to 5 stars at the end of the conversation.
These customer ratings determined two of the teams moving on to the finals – the UK’s Alana and the Czech Technical University’s Alquist. Amazon selected the wildcard finalist Gunrock, from UC Davis. (A Twitch video stream of the semi-finals can be seen here).
The competition, which launched in February, closes in November, when the finalist teams will compete head-to-head in front of judges.
The judges will score the socialbots on their ability to converse coherently and engagingly with humans on a popular topic, with the winning team securing a $500,000 prize from the company.
This Year’s Alexa Prize Challenge
The challenge for participants in the competition this year is to build socialbots that can engage in a “fun, high-quality conversation on popular societal topics for up to 20 minutes.”
In order to make this possible, competitors need to innovate across the fields of knowledge acquisition, natural language understanding, natural language generation, context modeling, common-sense reasoning, and dialog planning.
They use the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) to construct their bot and to receive real-time feedback on its performance.
The competition comes as Gartner anticipates that by 2021, more than 50% of enterprises will spend more per annum on bots and chatbot creation than traditional mobile app development.
“Individual apps are out. Bots are in. In the ‘post-app era,’ chatbots will become the face of AI and bots will transform the way apps are built. Traditional apps, which are downloaded from a store to a mobile device, will become just one of many options for customers,” the research houses expects.