Archive for the ‘Talks’ Category

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

READ MORE:

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

 

 

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Conversational AI: The Science behind the Alexa Prize

Conversational agents are exploding in popularity. However, much work remains in the area of social conversation as well as free-form conversation over a broad range of domains and topics. To advance the state of the art in conversational AI, Amazon launched the Alexa Prize, a 2.5-million-dollar university competition where sixteen selected university teams were challenged to build conversational agents, known as “socialbots”, to converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics such as Sports, Politics, Entertainment, Fashion and Technology for 20 minutes.

The Alexa Prize offered the academic community a unique opportunity to perform research with a live system used by millions of users. The competition provided university teams with real user conversational data at scale, along with the user-provided ratings and feedback augmented with annotations by the Alexa team. This enabled teams to effectively iterate and make improvements throughout the competition while being evaluated in real-time through live user interactions.

To build their socialbots, university teams combined state-of-the-art techniques with novel strategies in the areas of Natural Language Understanding, Context Modeling, Dialog Management, Response Generation, and Knowledge Acquisition. To support the teams’ efforts, the Alexa Prize team made significant scientific and engineering investments to build and improve Conversational Speech Recognition, Topic Tracking, Dialog Evaluation, Voice User Experience, and tools for traffic management and scalability.

This paper outlines the advances created by the university teams as well as the Alexa Prize team to achieve the common goal of solving the problem of Conversational AI.

Conversational AI: The Science behind the Alexa Prize

by Ashwin Ram, Rohit Prasad, Chandra Khatri, Anu Venkatesh, Raefer Gabriel, Qing Liu, Jeff Nunn, Behnam Hedayatnia, Ming Cheng, Ashish Nagar, Eric King, Kate Bland, Amanda Wartick, Yi Pan, Han Song, Sk Jayadevan, Gene Hwang, Art Pettigrue

Proceedings of the 2017 Alexa Prize
Invited talk at NIPS-2017 Workshop on Conversational AI
Invited talk at re:Invent 2017 (with Spyros Matsoukas)

READ THE PAPER:

s3.amazonaws.com/alexaprize/2017/technical-article/alexaprize.pdf

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 

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

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), O’Reilly AI Conference (2017), The AI Summit (2017), Stanford ASES Summit (2017), MLconf AI Conference (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).
 

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

 

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.
VIEW SLIDES: