Posts Tagged ‘information retrieval’

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.


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?


Socio-Semantic Conversational Information Access

We develop an innovative approach to delivering relevant information using a combination of socio-semantic search and filtering approaches. The goal is to facilitate timely and relevant information access through the medium of conversations by mixing past community specific conversational knowledge and web information access to recommend and connect users and information together. Conversational Information Access is a socio-semantic search and recommendation activity with the goal to interactively engage people in conversations by receiving agent supported recommendations. It is useful because people engage in online social discussions unlike solitary search; the agent brings in relevant information as well as identifies relevant users; participants provide feedback during the conversation that the agent uses to improve its recommendations.

Socio-Semantic Conversational Information Access

by Saurav Sahay, Ashwin Ram

WWW-2012 Workshop on Community Question Answering on the Web (CQA-12).

Socio-Semantic Conversational Information Access

The main contributions of this thesis revolve around development of an integrated conversational recommendation system, combining data and information models with community network and interactions to leverage multi-modal information access. We have developed a real time conversational information access community agent that leverages community knowledge by pushing relevant recommendations to users of the community. The recommendations are delivered in the form of web resources, past conversation and people to connect to. The information agent (cobot, for community/ collaborative bot) monitors the community conversations, and is ‘aware’ of users’ preferences by implicitly capturing their short term and long term knowledge models from conversations. The agent leverages from health and medical domain knowledge to extract concepts, associations and relationships between concepts; formulates queries for semantic search and provides socio-semantic recommendations in the conversation after applying various relevance filters to the candidate results. The agent also takes into account users’ verbal intentions in conversations while making recommendation decision.

One of the goals of this thesis is to develop an innovative approach to delivering relevant information using a combination of social networking, information aggregation, semantic search and recommendation techniques. The idea is to facilitate timely and relevant social information access by mixing past community specific conversational knowledge and web information access to recommend and connect users with relevant information. Language and interaction creates usable memories, useful for making decisions about what actions to take and what information to retain.

Cobot leverages these interactions to maintain users’ episodic and long term semantic models. The agent analyzes these memory structures to match and recommend users in conversations by matching with the contextual information need. The social feedback on the recommendations is registered in the system for the algorithms to promote community preferred, contextually relevant resources. The nodes of the semantic memory are frequent concepts extracted from user’s interactions. The concepts are connected with associations that develop when concepts co-occur frequently. Over a period of time when the user participates in more interactions, new concepts are added to the semantic memory. Different conversational facets are matched with episodic memories and a spreading activation search on the semantic net is performed for generating the top candidate user recommendations for the conversation.

The tying themes in this thesis revolve around informational and social aspects of a unified information access architecture that integrates semantic extraction and indexing with user modeling and recommendations.

Read the dissertation:

Socio-Semantic Conversational Information Access

by Saurav Sahay

PhD dissertation, College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology, November 2011.

Crowdsourcing: From Phenomenon to Business Model

Crowdsourcing is changing both the way we work, as well as the way Internet applications are designed and delivered. It’s no longer just the domain of technologists (who can now achieve breakthroughs together never before achievable); crowdsourcing is now ripe for enterprise professionals to understand and leverage the possibilities for their business goals.

From Wikipedia and YouTube, crowdsourcing has moved to a $5B “crowd worker” industry with applications proliferating for productivity, research, marketing, advertising, creative development, corporate workflow management, language translations, and much more — see a list of projects here.

I discuss social networks as a kind of crowdsourcing, with unique benefits and challenges.

Invited panel presentation at PARC Forum, Palo Alto, CA, November 10, 2011

View the panel discussion:

Open Social Learning Communities

With the advent of open education resources, social networking technologies and new pedagogies for online and blended learning, we are in the early stages of a significant disruption in current models of education. The disruption is fueled by a staggering growth in demand. It is estimated that there will be 100 million students qualified to enter universities over the next decade. To educate them, a major university would need to be created every week.

Universities have responded to this need with Open Education Resources—thousands of free, high quality courses, developed by hundreds of faculty, used by millions worldwide. Unfortunately, online courseware does not offer a supporting learning experience or the engagement needed to keep students motivated. Students read less when using e-textbooks; video lectures are boring; and retention and course completion rates are low.

Therein lies the core problem: How to engage a generation of learners who live on the Internet yet tune out of school, who seek interaction on Facebook yet find none on iTunes U, who need community yet are only offered content. We propose a new approach to this problem: open social learning communities, anchored with open content, providing an interactive online study group experience akin to sitting with study buddies on a world-wide campus quad.

This solution is enabled by state-of-the-art web technologies: really real-time collaboration technologies for a highly interactive experience; intelligent recommender systems to help learners connect with relevant content and other learners; mining and analytics to assess learner outcomes; and reputation techniques to establish social capital.  We will discuss these technologies and how they can be combined to address the problem of education in a manner that is highly scalable yet interactive and engaging.

This approach can be used for other types of learning communities. We will show an application to healthcare information access to help consumers learn about their healthcare questions and needs.

Keynote talk at SIPA Conference: Entrepreneurship—Idea Wave 3.0, Mountain View, CA, November 12, 2011.
Keynote talk at the International Conference on Web Intelligence, Mining and Semantics (WIMS-11), Sogndal, Norway, May 27, 2011.

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Read the paper:

View the slides:



Intentional analysis of medical conversations for community engagement

With an explosion in the proliferation of user-generated content in communities, information overload is increasing and quality of readily available online content is deteriorating. There is an increasing need for intelligent systems that make use of implicit user-generated knowledge in communities for community engagement. We describe our approach based on modeling user utterances in communities to proactively target the community for exchange of questions and answers. We envision a system that automatically encourages user engagement and participation by routing relevant conversations to users based on individual and community activity levels.

In this paper, we analyze health forum conversations from WebMD, a popular health portal consumer site, and classify them in different acts of speech using Verbal Response Modes (VRM) theory. We describe our approach for modeling an intelligent community recommender to engage participants based on observations from our analysis.

Read the paper:

Intentional analysis of medical conversations for community engagement

by Saurav Sahay, Hua Ai, Ashwin Ram

FLAIRS-11 International Conference on Artificial Intelligence