University students compete for inaugural $1.5 Million Alexa Prize



A group of PhD students from Heriot-Watt University is one of the twelve teams chosen by Amazon to enter the Alexa Challenge

It is a great opportunity for our students to join their research efforts and create something big and truly transformative.

Dr Verena Rieser

The six strong student group, from the Interaction Lab in the School of Mathematical and Computer Science, were chosen from over 100 entries from 22 countries world-wide in this year's inaugural competition which focuses on the grand challenge of building 'A socialbot that can converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes'.  

The team, #WattSocialBot, will receive a $100,000 stipend, Alexa-enabled devices and free Amazon Web Services (AWS) to support their development efforts, and support from the Alexa Skills Kit  team. The team with the highest performing socialbot will win $500,000 with an additional $1 million prize being awarded to the University whose team achieves the grand challenge.

Dr Verena Rieser, who led the proposal along with three other academic colleagues, is delighted for the team. “We are all incredible proud of our students entering the Alexa Challenge. Heriot-Watt University will compete against the top players in the field, including Princeton, Carnegie Mellon, Berkeley, Edinburgh, Waterloo etc. 

“Our group has a long tradition in building Conversational Agents and we feel well prepared for the challenge. It is a great opportunity for our students to join their research efforts and create something big and truly transformative.”

Evaluation of the entries was based on potential scientific contribution to the field, technical merit of the approach, novelty of the idea, and the team's ability to execute against their plan.

From April 2017 millions of Alexa customers will have the opportunity to converse with the socialbots on popular topics and their feedback will be a factor in the judging process, with the best socialbots making it to the final. The winners will be announced in November 2017.

Featured in the photo are the team, front row (l-r)  Ioannis Papaioannou, Yanchao Yu, Jose Part, back row (l-r) Igor Shalyminov, Xinnuo Xu, Amanda Cercas Curry.