Alexa Prize — State of the Art in Conversational AI

To advance the state of the art in conversational AI, Amazon launched the Alexa Prize, a 2.5 million dollar competition that challenges university teams to build conversational agents, or “socialbots”, that can converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes. The Alexa Prize offers the academic community a unique opportunity to perform research at scale with real conversational data obtained by interacting with millions of Alexa users, along with user-provided ratings and feedback, over several months. This enables teams to effectively iterate, improve and evaluate their socialbots throughout the competition. Sixteen teams were selected for the inaugural competition last year. To build their socialbots, the students combined state-of-the-art techniques with their own novel strategies in the areas of Natural Language Understanding and Conversational AI. This article reports on the research conducted over the 2017-2018 year. While the 20 minute grand challenge was not achieved in the first year, the competition produced several conversational agents that advanced the state of the art, are interesting for everyday users to interact with, and help form a baseline for the second year of the competition.

READ THE PAPER:

Alexa Prize — State of the Art in Conversational AI
by C Khatri, A Venkatesh, B Hedayatnia, R Gabriel, A Ram, R Prasad
AI Magazine 39(3)

doi.org/10.1609/aimag.v39i3.2810

 

An Inside Look at the 2017 Alexa Prize Finals

The Alexa Prize is an annual university competition to advance the state of Conversational AI. Last November, Rohit Prasad, vice president and head scientist, Alexa Machine Learning, and I had the pleasure of announcing the winner of the inaugural competition.

Judging a conversational AI competition is super hard because conversation is inherently subjective; there isn’t a clear right or wrong response at each turn in a dialog, nor a precise definition of what makes a conversation “coherent” or “engaging”. This short film explains how the finals were conducted, and showcases the winning teams from University of Washington, Czech Technical University, and Heriot-Watt University.

See what the best conversational socialbots can do today, and what more needs to be done to solve this very hard problem.


VIEW THE FILM:

youtu.be/WTGuOg7GXYU


SPEAK WITH THE SOCIALBOTS:
Just say “Alexa, let’s chat” to your Alexa-enabled device.

Podcast: How Amazon’s Alexa Learns

Much of the ballyhoo around intelligent home assistance devices is that they make life easier for us: from regulating our thermostats to freeing our hands while we check a favorite recipe for roast turkey, to playing that favorite jam to get us pumped up in the morning. And it turns out that because these devices are designed to learn from our patterns and habits, they become more helpful the longer we live with them.

In this podcast, Ashwin Ram, one of the minds behind Amazon Alexa, describes how the company is balancing privacy concerns with natural language recognition to design a more effective device.

KelloggInsight podcast with Jennifer Cutler, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management

 

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST / READ THE TRANSCRIPT:

insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/podcast-how-amazons-alexa-learns

TED: Imagine a world of AI

Ashwin Ram works on the AI behind Alexa, one of several new bots that might change the way your home and your life function within the next few years. Imagine a bot that turns on your lights, shops for you, even helps you make decisions. Learn more about a bot-enabled future that might have you saying (like Shah Rukh Khan does): “Alexa, I love you!”

 

TALK & TRANSCRIPT:
#TomorrowsWorld made easier with Artificial Intelligence. #TEDTalksIndiaNayiSoch

ted.com/talks/ashwin_ram_could_bots_make_your_life_better

BEHIND THE SCENES:
Innovator and entrepreneur, Ashwin Ram believes AI will changes our lives in future. #TomorrowsWorld #TEDTalksIndiaNayiSoch

youtube.com/watch?v=kDvIsRuaq5k

FULL #TOMORROWSWORLD EPISODE:
Can you imagine what #TomorrowsWorld will be like? Shah Rukh Khan introduces.

tedtalksindianayisoch.hotstar.com/TED/episode-4.php

ALL TED TALKS INDIA NAYI SOCH:
#TEDTalksIndiaNayiSoch is a groundbreaking TV series showcasing new thinking from some of the brightest brains in India and beyond and hosted by “The King of Bollywood,” Shah Rukh Khan.

ted.com/series/ted_talks_india_nayi_soch

On Evaluating and Comparing Conversational Agents

Conversational agents are exploding in popularity. However, much work remains in the area of non goal-oriented conversations, despite significant growth in research interest over recent years. To advance the state of the art in conversational AI, Ama- zon launched the Alexa Prize, a 2.5-million dollar university competition where sixteen selected university teams built conversational agents to deliver the best social conversational experience. Alexa Prize provided the academic community with the unique opportunity to perform research with a live system used by millions of users. The subjectivity associated with evaluating conversations is key element underlying the challenge of building non-goal oriented dialogue systems.

In this paper, we propose a comprehensive evaluation strategy with multiple metrics de- signed to reduce subjectivity by selecting metrics which correlate well with human judgement. The proposed metrics provide granular analysis of the conversational agents, which is not captured in human ratings. We show that these metrics can be used as a reasonable proxy for human judgment. We provide a mechanism to unify the metrics for selecting the top performing agents, which has also been applied throughout the Alexa Prize competition. To our knowledge, to date it is the largest setting for evaluating agents with millions of conversations and hundreds of thousands of ratings from users. We believe that this work is a step towards an automatic evaluation process for conversational AIs.

READ THE PAPER:

On Evaluating and Comparing Conversational Agents
by A Venkatesh, C Khatri, A Ram, F Guo, R Gabriel, A Nagar, R Prasad, M Cheng, B Hedayatnia, A Metallinou, R Goel, S Yang, A Raju
NIPS-2017 Workshop on Conversational AI

arxiv.org/abs/1801.03625

 

Topic-based Evaluation for Conversational Bots

Dialog evaluation is a challenging problem, especially for non task-oriented dialogs where conversational success is not well-defined. We propose to evaluate dialog quality using topic-based metrics that describe the ability of a conversational bot to sustain coherent and engaging conversations on a topic, and the diversity of topics that a bot can handle. To detect conversation topics per utterance, we adopt Deep Average Networks (DAN) and train a topic classifier on a variety of question and query data categorized into multiple topics. We propose a novel extension to DAN by adding a topic-word attention table that allows the system to jointly capture topic keywords in an utterance and perform topic classification. We compare our proposed topic based metrics with the ratings provided by users and show that our metrics both correlate with and complement human judgment. Our analysis is performed on tens of thousands of real human-bot dialogs from the Alexa Prize competition and highlights user expectations for conversational bots.

READ THE PAPER:
Topic-based Evaluation for Conversational Bots
by F Guo, A Metallinou, C Khatri, A Raju, A Venkatesh, A Ram
NIPS-2017 Workshop on Conversational AI

arxiv.org/abs/1801.03622

Announcing Winners of 2017 Alexa Prize

Earlier today, Rohit Prasad, vice president and head scientist, Alexa Machine Learning, and I had the pleasure of announcing the winner of the inaugural Alexa Prize competition for university students dedicated to accelerating the field of conversational artificial intelligence (AI).

Congratulations to team Sounding Board, an inspiring group of students from the University of Washington, whose socialbot earned an average score of 3.17 on a 5-point scale from our panel of independent judges and achieved an average conversation duration of 10:22. As the winner of our inaugural competition, team Sounding Board earned our $500,000 first-place prize, which will be shared among the students.

We also had the privilege of honoring and surprising our other finalists on stage. Our runner up was team Alquist from Czech Technical University in Prague. We presented them with a $100,000 prize for their efforts. We also awarded our third-place winner, team What’s Up Bot from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, with a $50,000 prize.

CHAT WITH THE WINNERS:

Just say “Alexa, let’s chat” to any Alexa-enabled device. (If you’re outside the U.S., set your Amazon Preferred Marketplace (PFM) to U.S. or use a U.S. based Amazon account.)


VIEW THE KEYNOTE:

youtu.be/HXtjdXjpJwI?t=32m18s


VIEW A SHORT FILM SHOWCASING THE WINNING SOCIALBOTS AND HOW THEY WERE SELECTED:

youtu.be/WTGuOg7GXYU


READ MORE:

developer.amazon.com/blogs/alexa/post/1a6a19d8-e45d-4b3b-981d-776a378ba625/university-of-washington-students-win-inaugural-alexa-prize