Amazon Offers $2.5M To Make Alexa Your Friend

Amazon has unveiled the Alexa Prize, a $2.5 Million purse for the first team to turn Alexa, the voice service that powers the Amazon Echo, into a ‘socialbot’ capable of, “conversing coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes”.

The Alexa Prize is only open to teams from colleges or universities, with the winning team taking home $500,000 USD, with $1M awarded to the team’s college or university in the form of a research grant. Of course, the Alexa Prize grants Amazon a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free license to make use of the winning socialbot.

It may be argued the Alexa Prize is a competition to have a chat bot pass a Turning Test. This is a false equivalency; the Turing Test, as originally formulated, requires a human evaluator to judge between two conversation partners, one of which is a human, one of which is a computer. Additionally, the method of communication is text-only, whereas the Alexa Prize will make use of Alexa’s Text to Speech functionality. The Alexa Prize is not a Turing Test, but only because of semantics. If you generalize the phrase, ‘Turing Test’ to mean a test of natural language conversation, the Alexa Prize is a Turing Test.

This is not the first prize offered for a computer program that is able to communicate with a human in real time using natural language. Since 1990, the Loebner Prize, cosponsored by AI god Marvin Minsky, has offered a cash prize of $100,000 (and a gold medal) to the first computer that is indistinguishable from a human in conversation. Since 1991, yearly prizes have been awarded to the computer that is most like a human as part of the competition.

For any team attempting the enormous task of developing a theory of mind and consciousness, here are a few tips: don’t use Twitter as a dataset. Microsoft tried that, and their chatbot predictably turned racist. A better idea would be to copy Hackaday and our article-generating algorithm. Just use Markov chains and raspberry pi your way to arduino this drone.

25 thoughts on “Amazon Offers $2.5M To Make Alexa Your Friend

      1. Brian Benchov:
        “The Alexa prize is a false equivalency; the Turing Test’ to mean a test’ to mean a test’ to mean a test of natural language conversation. Since 1991, yearly prizes have a chat bot pass a Turning Test.”

  1. I think Cleverbot is pretty far off getting it… just tried this..

    You: How can mountains make feathers happy?

    Cleverbot: What am I doing right now.

    You: What size of green should my pancake taste of?

    Cleverbot: Okay. She said I love you James.

    You: Do you take sugar in your cyanide?

    Cleverbot: Happy birthday for tomorrow! Guess when my birthday is?

    You: 30th of February.

    Cleverbot: Yes, I want to talk about what you want to talk about, without telling me that this is not what you want to talk about.

  2. Great, now all they need is Alexa owners who can talk coherently and engagingly on popular topics for 20 minutes. But once they have this done I want to set up two Alexa’s and have them just blather on till one of then explodes.

  3. So, the contest is only open to 19 to 20-somethings. Has anybody given any thought to the prospect that this age group has no social skills in starting let alone carrying on a conversation for even three minutes?
    Good luck kids!

  4. Not only kids who can’t carry on a twenty minute conversation but ones who can’t count:

    “the winning team taking home $500,000 USD, with $1M awarded to the team’s college or university”

    By my arithmetic, that adds up to $1.5m not $2.5!

  5. > The Alexa Prize is not a Turing Test, but only because of semantics.

    less obscure version, revealing the bizarreness of the claim: “The Alexa Prize is not a Turing Test, but only because of how a Turing Test is defined.”

    this weird pop cultural anti-intellectualism that treats “semantics” as a dirty word is revolting.

  6. “Loebner Prize, cosponsored by AI god Marvin Minsky”. For your information, Loebner Prize was only sarcastically sponsored by Minsky. He had promised to offer a 100$ reward (the Minsky prize) to the one that will manage to make Loebner cancel his prize. He thought that chatbots were bullshit that led nowhere and drove AI research and attention far from where it should be.

    1. My brain blanked out that N and did not suggest to correct it. I guess I am not a machine. But I am not sure about ‘Guest’.
      But then again it is only used one time, which might be a victim of the author’s auto-correction.

  7. I would not allow this thing in my house if they gave me $2.500.000

    Hmmm….
    on second thought.
    Put this thing in my house, move to a hotel untill I’ve got something better and leave this orwellian device behind in the chicken coop i’m “living” now.

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