Amazon launches the AICE Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
The center will support UIUC researchers in their development of novel approaches to conversational AI systems.
Amazon and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) today announced the launch of the Amazon-Illinois Center on Artificial Intelligence for Interactive Conversational Experiences (AICE). This center, which will be housed within The Grainger College of Engineering, will support UIUC researchers in their development of novel approaches to conversational AI systems.
This multiyear collaboration will provide support for research projects that will aim to develop intelligent conversational systems that demonstrate contextual understanding, emotional intelligence, allow for personalization, and are able to interpret non-verbal communication while being ethical and fair.
Furthermore, the center will award annual fellowships to doctoral students conducting research in conversational AI, both to help advance the field and also support the next generation of researchers. Fellowship recipients will be paired with Amazon scientists who will mentor and provide them with a deeper understanding of problems in industry.
As part of the collaboration, the university will also host public symposiums. These symposiums will provide a forum to university researchers to present research, while also allowing Amazon scientists to share scientific advances and discuss future areas of exploration.
The AICE Center will be led by Heng Ji, a professor of computer science at UIUC and Amazon Scholar, who is a leading authority on natural language processing and language extraction. Heng has focused her academic research on science initiatives at the intersection of natural language understanding and web-scale entity resolution, and on techniques to accelerate feature/skill development.
“We are thrilled to launch this new center, which brings together Amazon and UIUC faculty and students to jointly advance technologies that are fundamental to the future of conversational AI,” said Rohit Prasad, Alexa senior vice president and head scientist. “The research advances made by the faculty and students in this center will fuel next-generation AI systems that are more context-aware, that understand and respond to emotions, and are even more natural and human-like.”
“Research happening throughout The Grainger College of Engineering changes the world around us,” said Rashid Bashir, dean of The Grainger College of Engineering. “This agreement for a center between Illinois and Amazon that focuses on conversational experiences and AI will improve aspects of technology that impact our everyday life.”
Amazon and UIUC
The launch of AICE is preceded by a rich history of collaboration between Amazon and UIUC. Since 2017, UIUC faculty have received 23 Amazon Research Awards. In October 2021, Amazon, along with four other technology leaders and non-profits, announced its support for the Speech Accessibility Project at UIUC, which aims to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of voice recognition algorithms for those with disabilities and diverse speech patterns.
Amazon also has existing relationships with other UIUC academics. In addition to Ji, Paris Smaragdis, professor of computer science and associate head of the Computer Science department; and Romit Roy Choudhury, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, are also Amazon Scholars from UIUC. Smaragdis, who is currently the editor in chief for the ACM/IEEE Transactions on Audio, Speech, and Language Processing, has worked with AWS’s Amazon Chime team since August 2021. Choudhury, who leads the Systems and Research Networking Group (SyNRG) at UIUC has worked with the Devices and Services organization since March of 2022.
Bo Li, assistant professor of computer science; and Han Zhao, assistant professor of computer science, are both Amazon Visiting Academics. Li joined the Amazon Web Services Deep Learning organization in January 2022, while Zhao joined the Search Science and AI organization in May 2022.
Teams from UIUC are also currently competing in ongoing Alexa Prize challenges. Team CharmBana, advised by ChengXiang Zhai, the Donald Biggar Willett Professor in Engineering in the Department of Computer Science, is competing in the SocialBot Grand Challenge. Team Kingfisher, advised by Julia Hockenmaier, professor of computer science, is competing in the SimBot Challenge.