On Monday, August 16, Amazon announced the winners of the fourth year of the Alexa Prize Social Bot Grand Challenge. After three years on the silver and bronze positions, this year the team from CIIRC CTU developing chatbot called Alquist won the most valuable medal – gold.
The Alquist chatbot was created at CIIRC CTU in 2016, when a group of students led by artificial intelligence expert Jan Šedivý had sent an application for the Alexa Prize competition announced by the American Amazon for the first time. And that first time, Amazon chose them among teams mostly from US universities and challenged them with creating a social boot that would be able to talk fluently with users, respond to questions, provide information, and entertain. All this on its own devices with virtual assistant Alexa. In the first year, the Czech team placed in a great second place, which was of course a huge motivation to participate in the upcoming years.
“We are incredibly excited to learn that we have won this year’s competition,”said Jakub Konrád, Alquist’s team leader. “I am delighted and proud of our entire team for building a bot that managed to reach the finals for the fourth consecutive year. This year we strove to create a system capable of flexible conversation by synthesizing generative approaches with prepared scenarios that could adjust to users’ needs.”
After two second and one third place finally the team reached the highest goal and virtually brought gold from the US. Users and jurors alike confirmed that the conversations they had with Alquist were the longest, the best, most valuable, and funniest, despite being programmed by students for whom English is not their mother tongue and the American environment and society are quite different. In the finals, they won over their American competitors from Stanford University (2nd place), the University of Buffalo (3rd place) and the University of California, Santa Cruz (finalist) and Emory University (finalist).
In addition to recognition for their excellent work and representation of the most important Czech technical university in the international field, the team also receives a financial reward of half a million dollars for a 14-minute interview with the bot.
The team operating at CIIRC CTU under the leadership of Jan Šedivý consists of: Jakub Konrád (head, Faculty of Electrical Engineering CTU), Petr Marek (Faculty of Electrical Engineering CTU), Petr Lorenc (Faculty of Electrical Engineering CTU), Van Duy Ta (CIIRC CTU), Ondřej Kobza (CIIRC CTU) and Jan Pichl (member of the team in the first half of the competition, Faculty of Electrical Engineering CTU).
The coronavirus pandemic also affected this year’s challenge which took place virtually and remotely, and the competing teams could not meet live at the Seattle summit or the final announcement in Las Vegas, as was the case in the first two years of the competition. Despite the lack of these live meetings, Amazon created a video in which the individual teams are presented and the course of the competition is described. The video is available HERE
The official report of the competition organizers is available HERE.