Five finalists selected for Alexa Prize TaskBot Challenge 2
University teams are competing to build multimodal conversational agents that assist customers in completing tasks requiring multiple steps.
Five university teams have been selected to participate in the final live interactions phase of the Alexa Prize TaskBot Challenge 2. The teams were selected based on, among other things, customer feedback and scientific merit of the technical papers produced by each team. Publications from all ten semifinalist teams will be featured on the Amazon Science website later this year.
|GRILL||University of Glasgow||Jeff Dalton|
|ISABEL||University of Pittsburgh||Malihe Alikhani|
|PLAN-Bot||Virginia Tech||Ismini Lourentzou|
|Sage||University of California, Santa Cruz||Xin (Eric) Wang|
|TWIZ||NOVA School of Science and Technology||João Magalhães|
Alexa customers can interact with the university taskbots by saying "Alexa, let’s work together" on Amazon Echo or Fire TV devices. Customer ratings and feedback help the student teams improve their bots as they compete to see who will win the top awards, totaling $650,000 in cash prizes. During the finals phase, university teams implement their latest innovations and adjust their approach based on customer feedback.
The winning teams will be determined during the TaskBot Challenge finals event scheduled for mid-September.
Alexa Prize is a flagship industry-academic collaboration dedicated to accelerating the science of conversational artificial intelligence (AI) and multimodal human-AI interactions.
“Prize competitions provide an agile science experimentation framework for researchers and students, encouraging them to explore transformational ideas at the boundaries of what is achievable,” said Reza Ghanadan, senior principal scientist with Alexa AI and head of Alexa Prize. “We have developed the CoBot (conversational bot) toolkit and tools to lower the barriers to AI innovation for both the academic research community and students interested in conversational AI assistants. These tools allow students to quickly deploy their solutions at scale in the real world with Alexa, then observe, evaluate, and enhance their research results using feedback from Alexa customers.”
The prizes for overall performance in the competition will be $500,000 for the first-place team, $100,000 for second, and $50,000 for third. Those prizes will be paid out to the students on the teams with the best overall performance.
TaskBot Challenge 2 teams are working to address one of the hardest problems in conversational AI — creating next-generation conversational AI experiences that delight customers by addressing their changing needs as they complete complex tasks. This challenge builds upon the Alexa Prize’s foundation of providing universities a unique opportunity to test cutting-edge machine learning models with customers at scale.
TaskBot is the first conversational AI challenge to incorporate multimodal customer experiences, so in addition to receiving verbal instructions, customers with Echo Show or Fire TV devices, can also be presented with step-by-step instructions, images, or diagrams that enhance task guidance.
This year’s challenge has been expanded to include more hobbies and at-home activities. Participating teams were asked to propose interesting ways to incorporate visual aids into every conversation turn when a screen is available. Innovative ideas on improving the presentation of visual aids, as well as the coordination of visual and verbal modalities, were part of the team selection criteria.
Each university selected for the challenge receives a $250,000 research grant, Alexa-enabled devices, free Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing services to support their research and development efforts, access to Amazon scientists, the CoBot (conversational bot) toolkit, and other tools such as automated speech recognition through Alexa, neural detection and response generation models, conversational datasets, and design guidance and development support from the Alexa Prize team.
"Alexa, let's work together"
The finalist university teams’ taskbots are currently available for Alexa customers — customers can engage by saying, “Alexa, let’s work together.”
After initiating the interaction, customers receive a brief message informing them that they are interacting with an Alexa Prize university taskbot before being randomly connected to one of the participating taskbots.
After exiting the conversation with the taskbot, which customers can do at any time, the customer is prompted for a verbal rating, followed by an option to provide additional feedback. The interactions, ratings, and feedback are shared with the teams to help them improve their taskbots. Customer ratings were also used to determine which university teams advanced to the semifinals and finals.
Success in the previous TaskBot Challenge required teams to address many difficult AI obstacles. The challenge required the fusion of multiple AI techniques including knowledge representation and inference, commonsense and causal reasoning, and language understanding and generation.
The “GRILLBot” team from University of Glasgow won the TaskBot 1 Challenge in 2022, earning a $500,000 prize for its performance. Teams from NOVA School of Science and Technology (Portugal) and The Ohio State University earned second- and third-place prizes, respectively.