The Alexa Prize is competition organized by Amazon for student teams. The goal is to create chatbot for the Amazon Alexa, which should be able to communicate with human about any topic like politics, sport, news, movies and so on. The grand challenge is to engage human for twenty minutes. Our team from eClub Prague is participating!

Alquist the stupid

I was working in the student research incubator eClub during summer. My job was to create a system, which allows other developers to write chatbots easily. The system was intended for leading company of the Czech internet. The company wanted to use chatbots as assistants for internet shopping. So Alquist the dialogue manager (1.0) was born. However the company lost its interest because of some inner changes. You can try the demo here (the loading takes some time because we use slow server offered for free). This was the beginning of next events.

Alquist 2.0 the smart

Alquist team

Alquist team

We discovered Alexa Prize during October. We decided to form a team and enroll. Unthinkable happened. We were selected as one of the twelve teams out of hundred registered teams across the globe. It happened probably thanks to our experience with chatbots (Alquist the dialogue manager 1.0) and with question answering (YodaQA). Our team consists of leader Jan Pichl, Jakub Konrád, Long Hoang Nguyen (a.k.a. Roman), Matin Matulík and our faculty advisor Jan Šedivý (and me of course). I am still amazed, that we were selected together with the teams from universities as Berkley, Princeton or Carnegie Mellon.

We received free access to Amazon AWS, few Alexa devices and some money helping us to develop the best chatbot. We decided to call our chatbot Alquist again. It is the same name as we used for the system which I was developing during summer. But it would be a pity to use it for relatively stupid (in terms of AI) system. Alquist is the name of a character from Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. This play, created by one of the best Czech author, brings great symbolism. Word “robot” was used there for the first time. And Alquist sounds good too.

Karel Čapek's R.U.R.

Karel Čapek’s R.U.R.

We have read many scientific papers on the topic of intelligent chatbots. Out current approach is to combine neural networks with a little bit of RDF databases and some predefined rules. I can’t be more precise now. The working prototypes of all teams will be available at the beginning of April. And the end of the competition is planned for the November.

I am really thrilled because we are working on the cutting edge technology which can have a huge impact and can extend abilities of humankind. It is nothing like I experienced during game development. I believe that this competition can bring us great conversation AI created by any team. That would be amazing!

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