The Alexa Prize: $2.5M to Advance Conversational AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming ubiquitous. With advances in technology, algorithms, and sheer compute power, it is now becoming practical to utilize AI techniques in many everyday applications including transportation, healthcare, gaming, productivity, and media. Yet one seemingly intuitive task for humans still eludes computers: natural conversation. Simple and natural for humans, voice communication in everyday language continues to be one of the ultimate challenges for AI.

Today, we are pleased to announce the Alexa Prize, a $2.5 million university competition to advance conversational AI through voice. Teams of university students around the world are invited to participate in the Alexa Prize (see contest rules for details). The challenge is to create a socialbot, an Alexa skill that converses coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes. We challenge teams to invent an Alexa socialbot smart enough to engage in a fun, high quality conversation on popular topics for 20 minutes.

Are you up to the challenge?


A Group-Based Mobile Application to Increase Adherence in Exercise and Nutrition Programs: A Factorial Design Feasibility Study

Novel methods of promoting self-monitoring and social support are needed to ensure long-term maintenance of behavior change. In this paper, we directly investigate the effects of group support in an exercise and nutrition program delivered by an mHealth application called Fittle.

Our first specific study aim was to explore whether social support improved adherence in wellness programs. Our second specific study aim was to assess whether media types (ePaper vs mobile) were associated with different levels of compliance and adherence to wellness programs. The third aim was to assess whether the use of an mHealth application led to positive changes to participants’ eating behavior, physical activity, and stress level, compared to traditional paper-based programs.

Conclusions: The team-based Fittle app is an acceptable and feasible wellness behavior change intervention and a full randomized controlled trial to investigate the efficacy of such an intervention is warranted.

A Group-Based Mobile Application to Increase Adherence in Exercise and Nutrition Programs: A Factorial Design Feasibility Study

by Honglu Du, Anusha Venkatakrishnan, Michael Youngblood, Ashwin Ram, Peter Pirolli

Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) mHealth uHealth, 4(1), 2016.

Augmented Social Cognition for Consumer Health and Wellness

In a recent Wall Street Journal essay, Marc Andreessen wrote: “Software is eating the world. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software. Healthcare and education are next up for fundamental software-based transformation.”

What is the impending disruption in healthcare, and what new technologies are driving it? I argue that the problem is not healthcare but health: creating new consumer-centric approaches to health and wellness that increase engagement, improve health literacy and promote behavior change.

The web is evolving from information (portals) to interaction (social/mobile) to influence: shaping attitudes and behaviors. This creates a unique opportunity to address the problem of consumer health and wellness. But, to do this effectively requires a new kind of technology: user modeling. It also requires an innovation methodology that is fundamentally about people, not technology.

At PARC, our research in Augmented Social Cognition is centered around the confluence of three technologies: social, mobile, and user modeling. I discuss these technologies and explain how we leverage artificial Intelligence (AI) and case-based reasoning (CBR) techniques to model users and create effective and sustainable behavior change.

Invited talk at CBR-2013 Industry Day, Saratoga Springs, NY, July 8, 2013.

From Dr Google, to Dr Facebook, and beyond…

I recently appeared on the ABC Health Report radio program.

Joel Werner: Do you ever go online to search for symptoms that you’re experiencing? I do it all the time, and it’s a trend that has picked up the nickname ‘Dr Google’. For Ashwin Ram, Dr Google is just one step on the path to future healthcare…

The Intelligent Web: Shaping Behavior at the Intersection of Health, Wealth, & Choice

The web is evolving from information (portals) to interaction (social/mobile). The next stage will be about influence: shaping attitudes and behaviors. To do this effectively requires a new kind of technology: user modeling. It also requires an innovation methodology that is fundamentally about people, not technology.

I discuss three big ideas in innovation for consumer engagement and behavior change, and illustrate using examples from healthcare, education, and financial services.

Invited keynote at Amplify: Business Innovation and Thought Leadership, June 2013, Australia.


Learning from Demonstration to be a Good Team Member in a Role Playing Game

We present an approach that uses learning from demonstration in a computer role playing game. We describe a behavior engine that uses case-based reasoning. The behavior engine accepts observation traces of human playing decisions and produces a sequence of actions which can then be carried out by an artificial agent within the gaming environment. Our work focuses on team-based role playing games, where the agents produced by the behavior engine act as team members within a mixed human-agent team. We present the results of a study we conducted, where we assess both the quantitative and qualitative performance difference between human-only teams compared with hybrid human-agent teams.

Learning from Demonstration to be a Good Team Member in a Role Playing Game

by Michael Silva, Silas McCroskey, Jonathan Rubin, Michael Youngblood, Ashwin Ram

26th International FLAIRS Conference on Artificial Intelligence (FLAIRS-13).

The Patient Portal Conundrum

Recent “Meaningful Use” legislation requires healthcare providers to (Stage 1) capture patient information in electronic health records, (Stage 2) create portals to enable online access for patients and providers, and (Stage 3) demonstrate improved quality of care. All of which sounds like a great idea…but will it work?
At PARC we believe in anthropologist Margaret Mead‘s driving principle: “What people say, what people do, and what people say they do are entirely different things.” We know consumers access healthcare information online, but what do they actually do when they’re there?
NPR Marketplace cites a report by healthcare research firm National Research indicating 96% of the nearly 23,000 consumers it surveyed recently use Facebook to gather information about health care, with 28% using YouTube and 22% using Twitter. In fact, social media has been called “the biggest threat to healthcare portals like WebMD”.
If consumers don’t use healthcare portals, how will we get “meaningful use” by creating them? I will attempt to answer this question (hint: think Augmented Social Cognition) but I fully expect to raise a lot more questions in the process. Come ready to ask and argue, and maybe we will find answers together.
Invited talk at Breakaway Healthcare Forum, held in conjunction with TEDMED, April 16, 2013.