Amazon announced the beginning of the Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge 4 this week, opening up the contest to interested teams and laying out the timeline for the competition. Teams from academic institutions may submit applications through October 6 this year for a chance at some of the million dollars worth of prizes Amazon is offering.
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. For the contest, the socialbot has to sustain a minimum of 20 minutes conversation with at least two-thirds of that conversation matching a human’s pace and coherence. The competing socialbots in the most recent competition carried on more than 240,000 hours of conversation with Alexa users, according to Amazon.
The Alexa Prize began in 2016, with Emory University winning the third edition of the competition last month, earning the $500,000 grand prize over an initial 15 competitors, although only ten will be chosen for the new competition. Emory followed the University of California, Davis, and its Gunrock socialbot and the University of Washington’s Sounding Board program to the top spot, but the contest is open to any school around the world. 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.
“Building open domain conversational systems that give users the opportunity to have engaging conversations on topics of their choice is a challenging task,” Alexa AI senior principal scientist Dilek Hakkani-Tur said in a statement. “In the third challenge, the university teams advanced the science by bringing together common sense knowledge representations, neural response generation models, NLU systems enhanced by large-scale Transformer models, and improved dialogue policies. But there are many challenges still to be overcome in developing socialbots that can carry on multi-turn, open-domain conversations. So we’re excited to see how Challenge 4 participants will continue to advance the state of the art.”
The socialbot challenge is one of several contests Amazon runs to attract new ideas and talent for Alexa, along with the Alexa Skills Challenge for Kids and the Alexa Life Hack Challenge, and the Lego Mindstorms Voice Challenge: Powered by Alexa. 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.