Conversational AI: Voice-Based Intelligent Agents

As we moved from the age of the keyboard, to the age of touch, and now to the age of voice, natural conversation in everyday language continues to be one of the ultimate challenges for AI. This is a difficult scientific problem involving knowledge acquisition, natural language understanding, natural language generation, context modeling, commonsense reasoning and dialog planning, as well as a complex product design problem involving user experience and conversational engagement.

I will talk about why Conversational AI is hard, how conversational agents like Amazon Alexa understand and respond to voice interactions, how you can leverage these technologies for your own applications, and the challenges that still remain.

Variants of this talk presented (click links for video):
 
Keynote talks at The AI Conference (2017), Stanford ASES Summit (2017), Stanford ASES Summit (2017), Global AI Conference (2016).
 
Distinguished lectures at Georgia Tech/GVU (2017), Northwestern University (2017).
 
Keynote panel at Conversational Interaction Conference (2016).
 
Lightning TED-style talks at IIT Bay Area Conference (2017), Intersect (2017).
 
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Conversational News Experiences

News consumption is a passive experience—reading print or online newspapers, listening to radio shows and podcasts, watching television broadcasts. News producers create, curate, and organize  content which consumers absorb passively. With the advent of interactive conversational technologies ranging from chatbots to voice-based conversational assistants such as Amazon Alexa, there is an opportunity to engage consumers in more interactive experiences around news.

At the Computation+Journalism symposium held at Northwestern University this year, Emily Withrow, editor at Quartz Bot Studio and assistant professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and I had a fireside chat to share recent technological developments in this area and explore what kinds of conversational news experiences these technologies might enable.

Panel at the 2017 Computation+Journalism Symposium, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL. #cj2017 

Announcing the 2017 Alexa Prize Finalists

We’ve hit another milestone in the Alexa Prize, a $2.5 million university competition to advance conversational AI. University teams from around the world have been hard at work to create a socialbot, an AI capable of conversing coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics and news events for 20 minutes.

I am now excited to announce the university teams that will be competing in the finals! After hundreds of thousands of conversations, the two socialbots with the highest average customer ratings during the semifinal period are Alquist from the Czech Technical University in Prague and Sounding Board from the University of Washington in Seattle. The wildcard team is What’s Up Bot from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

READ MORE:

developer.amazon.com/blogs/alexa/post/783df492-4770-4b11-81ac-59e009669d56/announcing-the-2017-alexa-prize-finalists

 

Talking AI with Sebastian Thrun

Udacity blog: Artificial Intelligence by its very nature promises so much, and the potential seems so vast it staggers the imagination. Excitement in this field runs higher every day, as the ongoing process of translating the possible into the actual produces newer and more incredible innovations.

With this excitement come concerns, of course, and it is perhaps understandable that some people continue to see Artificial Intelligence as some sort of a threat. This worry fails to take into consideration two key storylines: 1) AI is an augmentative technology; it extends our abilities, it does not replace them, and 2) AI, by assuming responsibility for repetitive and mundane tasks, frees us for more creative and fulfilling activity.  

Some observers have even gone so far as to suggest that intelligent machines represent a kind of end to “human-ness” itself; meaning, those things we think of as being most human—the ability to love, to make moral and ethical decisions, to create art—are predicted to fall by the wayside before the advance of intelligent machines.

Dr. Ashwin Ram, Senior Manager of AI at Amazon Alexa, spoke to Sebastian Thrun, President and Co-Founder of Udacity, about AI, and his foundational exposure to the “human side of technology” as he pursued his PhD in AI at Yale. This is a deeply insightful conversation, and should be required viewing for anyone interested in the past, present, and future of AI, and what it all means for humanity.

Read more / View the talk:
blog.udacity.com/2017/07/ashwin-ram-sebastian-thrun-discuss-ai.html

Join the Alexa Prize Journey and Test the Socialbots

On September 29, 2016, Amazon announced the Alexa Prize, a $2.5 million university competition to advance conversational AI through voice. In April, university teams from around the world assembled at the appropriately named Day 1 building in Seattle for the Alexa Prize Summit. The event was a base camp for teams to share learnings and make preparations for the most challenging leg of their journey: to build and scale an AI capable of conversing coherently and engagingly with humans for 20 minutes.

As they build their “socialbots,” they will encounter esoteric problems like context modeling and dialog planning as well as exoteric problems like user experience and conversational engagement. And they will need all the help they can get.

We invite you to join the students on their journey and help them along the way. You can interact with their socialbots simply by saying, “Alexa, let’s chat” on any device with Alexa.

READ MORE:
developer.amazon.com/blogs/alexa/post/e4cc64d1-f334-4d2d-8609-5627939f9bf7/join-the-alexa-prize-journey-and-test-the-socialbots

 

Making The Future Possible: Conversational AI in Amazon Alexa

No longer is AI solely a subject of science fiction. Advances in AI have resulted in enabling technologies for computer vision, planning, decision making, robotics, and most recently spoken language understanding. These technologies are driving business growth, and releasing workers to engage in more creative and valuable tasks.

I’ll talk about the moved from the age of the keyboard, to the age of touch, and are now entering the age of voice. Alexa is making this future possible. Amazon is committed to fostering a robust cloud-based voice service, and it is this voice service that the innovators of today, tomorrow, and beyond will be building. It is this voice service—and the ecosystem around it—that awaits the next generation of AI talent.

Keynote at Udacity Intersect Conference, Computer History Museum, Mountain View, CA, March 8, 2017.
 

READ MORE:

blog.udacity.com/2017/02/dr-ashwin-ram-intersect-2017-speaker.html

VIEW THE TALK:

linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6286681682187812864

 

Announcing the Sponsored Teams for the 2016-2017 Alexa Prize

On September 29, 2016, Amazon announced the Alexa Prize, a $2.5 million university competition to advance conversational AI through voice. We received applications from leading universities across 22 countries. Each application was carefully reviewed by senior Amazon personnel against a rigorous set of criteria covering scientific contribution, technical merit, novelty, and ability to execute. Teams of scientists, engineers, user experience designers, and product managers read, evaluated, discussed, argued, and finally selected the ten teams who would be invited to participate in the competition. Wait, make that twelve; we received so many good applications from graduate and undergraduate students that we decided to sponsor two additional teams.

Today, we’re excited to announce the 12 teams selected to compete with an Amazon sponsorship.

READ MORE:

developer.amazon.com/blogs/post/Tx1UXVV4VJTPYTL/announcing-the-sponsored-teams-for-the-2016-2017-alexa-prize