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Amazon looks to advance AI with Alexa competition's $2.5 million prize

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College students looking for a chance at fame and fortune have a new collaborative competition to look into this week, with Amazon’s announcement of its new Alexa Competition. The online retail giant says that the new competition, which has a grand prize total of $2.5 million, is meant to help advance the field of conversational AI — that is, improve the ability of computers to understand how humans speak and communicate verbally.

The Alexa Competition, which is aptly named given Amazon’s home automation Alexa relies heavily on voice commands, will pit teams of students against each other as they are all tasked with creating a “Socialbot.” These Socialbots are to be built into the Alexa platform with the purpose of conversing with people about popular topics; like how the local NFL team did on Sunday, or what day that new blockbuster movie opens.

Interested students have until October 28th to get a team together and submit an application to Amazon. After that point, the company will choose up to 10 teams to sponsor, with each receiving a $100,000 stipend, Alexa-enabled devices, AWS services, and direct access to the Alexa team at Amazon.

The competition from that point on would run until November 2017, when the final entries would be due and the winners announced at AWS Re:Invent. As for what Amazon is wanting from the winning participants? Their Socialbots should be able to “acquire knowledge and opinions from the web, and express them in context just as a human would in everyday conversations,” Amazon Alexa head scientist Rohit Prasad said in a statement.

If you have any experience with voice-enabled AI, you know that this will be no easy task, but we can think of 2.5 million reasons why these teams will be giving it their best effort. If you, or someone you know, might be interested in this you can get all of the rules, regulations, and submission guidelines from Amazon here.

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