The University of Washington is one of 12 top teams from around the world to receive Amazon’s sponsorship in their inaugural Alexa Prize. The team, called Sounding Board, is led by EE student, Hao Fang, and includes EE student, Hao Cheng, and CSE students Maarten Sap, Elizabeth Clark and Ariel Holtzman. EE Professor Mari Ostendorf is the lead faculty advisor, with CSE Assistant Professor Yejin Choi and CSE Associate Professor Noah Smith also supporting the team. The Amazon sponsorship includes a $100,000 stipend, Alexa-enabled devices, free Amazon Web Services (AWS) services to support the team’s development efforts and support from the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) team.
The grand challenge of the Alexa Prize is to develop a socialbot with the ability to converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes. The team that has the highest-performing socialbot will receive the grand prize of $500,000. If the winning team also meets the 20-minute grand challenge, the team’s university will receive an additional prize of $1 million.
Applications for the Alexa Prize came in from over 100 teams across 22 countries. These applications were reviewed and evaluated based on the “potential scientific contribution to the field, the technical merit of the approach, the novelty of the idea and the team’s ability to execute against their plan.”
The teams will be evaluated in April 2017 by millions of real Alexa customers. These users will converse with the socialbots on popular topics. This feedback will be a factor in selecting the best socialbots to advance to the finals. Winners will be announced at a special session at re:Invent 2017, a global cloud computing conference hosted by Amazon Web Services.
Congratulations, Team Sounding Board!