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Amazon awards Alexa Prize for conversational bots to Gunrock team from UC Davis


Amazon today announced that the 2018 Alexa Prize has been rewarded to Gunrock, a team of about a dozen University of California, Davis students, for making the best conversational bot and advance the state of modern AI. The announcement was made by Alexa chief scientist Rohit Prasad at the first day of festivities for AWS re:Invent conference taking place this week in Las Vegas.

Whereas some automated bots are designed for little talking, those designed for the Alexa Prize are meant to answer questions like “What’s your favorite color?” and achieve the very human art of light chit-chat. Such intelligence could make Alexa, an AI assistant with a personality team and an ESFJ on the Myers-Briggs personality scale.

It could also, as previous Alexa Prize lead Ashwin Ram explained, lead to the development of bots capable of addressing the loneliness epidemic.

Over the course of July and August this summer, Echo speaker users who said “Alexa, let’s chat,” were introduced to one of three finalist bots. Altogether, more than 1.7 million participated in conversations with finalists social bots and assigned each exchange with 1 to 5 stars. You can still speak to winning bots by saying “Alexa, let’s chat.”

This is the second year of the Alexa Prize, a competition that challenges teams of university students to try and create bots that are capable of maintaining casual conversations with humans that last up to 20 minutes.

The Gunrock social bot was able to maintain conversations on average of 9 minutes and 59 second. By comparison, 2017 Alexa Prize winner Sounding Board from University of Washington, Seattle was able to maintain conversations for an average of 10 minutes and 22 seconds.

Above: Gunrock Alexa Prize team from University of California, Davis

Image Credit: Amazon

As winner, Gunrock, named for the thoroughbred horse mascot for UC Davis, will receive $500,000.

Czech Technical University in Prague who made a bot named Alquist came in second place to win $100,000, while the makers of Alana, a Heriot-Watt University team from Edinburough, Scotland, came in third place to win $50,000.

An additional $1 million grant was at stake for Gunrock if it could achieve an average user rating of 4.0 and maintain conversations for 20 minutes.

This is the second year that Alquist has taken second place in the Alexa Prize.

The Alexa Prize is supported by the Alexa Fund, a program to support the growth of voice AI startups and initiatives with up to $200 million.



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