Amazon announces Alexa AI development prize

Amazon has announced the Alexa Prize, a competition for university students devoted to innovating artificial intelligence (AI). The university will win $1 million and the students who make the bot will get $500,000. 

Up to ten Amazon-sponsored teams will participate, and receive $100,000 to spend on Alexa devices and AWS services. 

Rohit Prasad, vice president and head scientist at Amazon Alexa, said: “The Alexa Prize challenges students to build socialbots that can acquire knowledge and opinions from the web, and express them in context just as a human would in everyday conversations.

"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 will make what we previously thought impossible, possible".

Students will use the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) to create their bots and will be able to program to use topical categories and content provided by news outlets.

Millions of Alexa users will attempt to have a 20 minute conversation with the bots in order to test how responsive they are. Their feedback will be relayed to a panel of judges who will make a final decision.

This comes at a time when Microsoft has announced plans to bring together Bing, Cortana, and Microsoft Research to create its own AI division. The AI Research Group will consist of 5,000 engineers and computer scientists who will be fronted by Microsoft’s Harry Shum. 

Shum said: “Microsoft announced a new group that will help accelerate this evolution.

“It will include Microsoft Research along with the company’s Information Platform Group, Bing and Cortana product groups, and our Ambient Computing and Robotics teams. The combined group will include more than 5,000 computer scientists and engineers.”

Microsoft will collaborate with IBM, Facebook, and Google to develop the AI Research Group. Amazon has also been named as a partner. 

AI is currently moving into a new era, but Amazon is not the first to explore this technology. Artificial intelligence is tipped to feature more prominently in software development within the next few years.

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