School of Informatics

Alexa prize bid for talking robot

A team of Edinburgh Informatics PhD students has been chosen by Amazon to compete for an inaugural $1.5M prize.

Joachim, Daniel, Marco, Emmanuel, Federico, Jianpeng, Mihai and Ben.

The ‘Edina’ team (pictured here from left to right) consists of Joachim Fainberg, Daniel Duma, Marco Damonte, Emmanuel Kahembwe, Federico Fancellu, Jianpeng Cheng, Mihai Dobre and Ben Krause.

‘Edina’ was one of 12 teams from around the world to receive $100k sponsorship, to build a socialbot that can engage people in conversation. The challenge now is to turn their proposal into the highest-performing socialbot in the competition.

If they succeed, they will win $500k. If their socialbot can also “converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes,” they could win an extra $1M.

But it isn’t all about the prize money. Edina team member Federico says, “We decided to enter the competition for different reasons but we are all excited to be working together towards solving a practical and challenging problem, and we are going to learn a lot in the process.”

Technical merit and teamwork

Amazon received over 100 applications from leading universities across 22 countries to develop socialbots for its Alexa voice service. Proposals were evaluated on the basis of the potential scientific contribution to the field, technical merit, the novelty of the idea, and the team’s ability to execute against their plan.

As well as £100k to take forward their proposal, the prize includes Alexa-enabled devices, free Amazon Web Services (AWS) and support from the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) team.

Amazon says, “Beginning in April 2017, as part of the research and judging process, millions of Alexa customers will have the opportunity to converse with the socialbots on popular topics. The feedback from Alexa users 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.”

Useful links

Alexa Prize

See the story on the University website

Edina can be found on Twitter @edinabot and on Instagram as edinabot.


Photo: Joachim Fainberg