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The Alexa family.
The Alexa family.

Amazon has revealed the 12 university teams that will compete for the inaugural Alexa Prize — which challenges students to build a “socialbot” that can have intelligent conversations through the company’s digital brain Alexa about pop culture and news events.

The 12 teams include Amazon’s hometown school, the University of Washington, as well as universities from across the U.S., Scotland, Canada, Italy and the Czech Republic. The prize pool totals up to $2.7 million, with the winning team receiving a $500,000 prize, and Amazon will give another $1 million to the winning team’s university if its bot can converse coherently for 20 minutes. Amazon is giving each of the 12 teams a $100,000 stipend, Alexa-enabled devices, free AWS services, and support from the Alexa team.

“The response to the Alexa Prize challenge has been incredibly positive. With applications from over 100 incredibly well-qualified teams from 22 countries, we were unable to pick just 10 to sponsor,” Rohit Prasad, vice president and head scientist of Amazon’s Alexa division, said in a statement. “We are eager to see what students from the 12 sponsored teams around the world–including one team of undergrads–create with Alexa.”

Here are the 12 teams, some of which hail from the same university, competing for the prize:

  • Czech Technical University in Prague: Prague, Czech Republic. Team Name: eClub
  • Heriot-Watt University: Edinburgh, Scotland. Team Name: WattSocialBot
  • University of Edinburgh: Edinburgh, Scotland. Team Name: Edina
  • University of Montreal: Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Team Name: MILA Team
  • University of Trento: Trento, Italy. Team Name: Roving Minds
  • Carnegie-Mellon University: Pittsburgh, Pa. Team Name: CMU Magnus
  • Carnegie-Mellon University: Pittsburgh, Pa. Team Name: TBD
  • Princeton University: Princeton, N.J. Team Name: Princeton Alexa
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: Troy, N.Y. Team Name: BAKAbot
  • University of California, Berkeley: Berkeley, Calif. Team Name: Machine Learning @ Berkeley
  • University of California, Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz, Calif. Team Name: SlugBots
  • University of Washington: Seattle. Team Name: HuskyBot

The teams will now have until the end of March 2017 to put together their bots before the first round of feedback occurs. The winners will be announced about a year from now at AWS re:Invent in November 2017.

Using the Alexa Skills Kit, teams will have access to numerous content sources, including Washington Post, to build their bots’ knowledge base. Bots will be available for owners of Alexa-powered devices like the Echo and Echo Dot to try out. Users can say “Alexa, let’s chat about,” and then pick a topic like baseball, celebrity gossip or scientific breakthroughs. Feedback from Alexa customers will factor in to which teams make the finals of the competition.

The competition is another example of Amazon crowdsourcing artificial intelligence on Alexa. She currently has more than 3,000 skills. Last year Amazon opened up Alexa to developers, and the company said tens of thousands of them are working on skills and projects for Alexa. Developers who want to add to Alexa’s abilities can write code that works with Alexa in the cloud, letting the smart assistant do the heavy lifting of understanding and deciphering spoken commands.

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