Heriot-Watt has reached the final of the international Amazon Alexa Prize for the second year running. The university will again be the only institution to represent the UK at the event held in Las Vegas in November.
Team Alana, comprising seven PhD students and four faculty advisors, navigated its way through the semi-final stage after impressing US customers with its advanced artificial intelligence software that can understand and respond to human conversation.
The group will now compete against fellow finalists from Czech Technical University and University of California Davis as they vie for the coveted title.
To once again reach the final of the Amazon Alexa Prize is a wonderful achievement and highlights the extraordinary talent we have in human voice recognition here at Heriot-Watt University – Professor Richard A. Williams.
Alana Team Leader Amanda Curry, who is studying Computer Science, said: “I’m really proud of the team and what we have achieved so far. The Amazon Alexa Prize pushes our capabilities but ultimately highlights the global talent pool we have at our disposal at Heriot-Watt.
“To reach the final for the second year running is a truly magnificent achievement, particularly as we were competing against some outstanding universities in the semi-final stages. We will now work hard in preparation of the final in Las Vegas. Hopefully, we can use our experience from last year to spur us on and return with the Prize.”
The Amazon Alexa Prize is a global university competition dedicated to the advancement of conversational artificial intelligence and named after the Alexa voice command system that powers the Amazon Echo.
It challenges teams to develop a software capable of understanding and responding to humans in a socially intelligent manner, over many different topics of conversation such as news, music, movies, and celebrities.
More than 100 teams from 22 countries entered last year’s competition when Heriot-Watt finished in a third place.
At stake in this year’s competition is a $500,000 prize to the team selected for creating the best socialbot. The second and third-placed teams will receive prizes of $100,000 and $50,000 respectively.
Additionally, a $1m research grant will be awarded to the winning team’s university if their socialbot achieves the grand challenge of conversing coherently and engagingly with humans for 20 minutes with a 4.0 or higher rating.
“To once again reach the final of the Amazon Alexa Prize is a wonderful achievement and highlights the extraordinary talent we have in human voice recognition here at Heriot-Watt University,” said Professor Richard A. Williams, principal and vice-chancellor.
“This is a competition that attracts entrants from across the world and Team Alana’s progress in such a prestigious event enforces the University’s international reputation as a leader in robotics and artificial intelligence. I congratulate everyone associated with Team Alana and wish them well for the final.”