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Amazon Alexa contest lets kids win big money for building smart AI

In a move to push Amazon Echo‘s Alexa further into the future, the company is turning to students for help in the form of a contest.

The competition is for universities around the world asking students to build a socialbot for Alexa.

The winning team will be rewarded with a $500,000 prize pot, with an additional $1 million prize available to that team’s university should their socialbot converse coherently and engagingly with humans for a whole 20 minutes.

Up to ten teams will be sponsored by Amazon and receive a $100,000 stipend, Alexa-enabled devices, free Amazon Web Services and support from the Alexa team.

Students will build their socialbots using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), developers are already using to build new skills on Alexa. Participants will have access to conversational topic categories and digital content from multiple sources, including The Washington Post, which has agreed to make its complete news feed and commentsavailable to the students for non-commercial use.

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People who can’t sign up can still join in with their Alexa’s. As part of the research and judging process, millions of Alexa owners will have the opportunity to talk with the socialbots on popular topics by saying, “Alexa, let’s chat about…(a topic, for example, baseball playoffs, celebrity gossip, scientific breakthroughs, etc.).”

Following the conversation, Alexa users will give feedback on the experience to provide input to the students for improving their socialbots. The feedback from Alexa users will also be used to help select the best socialbots to advance to the final, live judging phase.

Rohit Prasad, vice president and head scientist of Amazon Alexa says about the contest in a press release: “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.”

Teams of university students from around the world can submit applications now until 28 October and on 14 November, Amazon will announce the 10 teams who’ll each receive the stipend to build their product.

Winners will be revealed at Amazon’s AWS re:invent event in November 2017.

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