Czech conversational bot Alquist third in Amazon’s global competition

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Jan Šedivý, Jakub Konrád, Petr Marek, Jan Pichl, Petr Lorenc, Van Duy Ta

Czech conversational bot Alquist, developed by students from CTU in Prague under the leadership of Jan Sedivy, won bronze medal in this year’s prestigious global competition Amazon Alexa Prize. Alquist got up on the podium also in the previous two years, placing second two times in a row.

Announcement of the third installment of the conversational AI competition Alexa Prize had been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The results of this international competition were presented in an online broadcast without physical involvement of the participants. The winning team of the competition, students from Emory University, was awarded $500,000, the silver team from Stanford University received $100,000, and Alquist from Czech Technical University (CTU) earned a $50,000 prize for the third place.

„We are very happy that even with growing competition, Alquist again made it to the podium,“ says the team leader Jan Pichl. „The participation in the competition itself is very important for us and it motivates us to continue pushing the boundaries of AI – and our own.“

The finals took place between July 14 and 17 in Seattle, Washington. The placings of the competing teams were decided by a panel of independent judges. „This year was quite specific – during a significant part of the competition, we were forced to work from home,“ describes Pichl. “We feared that this would hinder our team’s collaboration and slow down the overall development of our bot. However, the entire team managed the situation excellently, and at the end of the day, working remotely was just as efficient.”

Team Alquist, led by faculty advisor Jan Sedivy from the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics, and Cybernetics (CIIRC) of CTU, is formed by Jan Pichl (student team leader), Petr Marek, Jakub Konrad, Petr Lorenc, and Van Duy Ta.

Alquist is a so-called “socialbot”, capable of conducting coherent and engaging conversations about popular topics, like movies, music, news, celebrities, or sports. To do that, Alquist uses for example knowledge databases or information from the internet. Alquist works with the latest algorithms from the field of natural language processing and conversational AI.

Chatbots are becoming increasingly widespread, especially in e-commerce, hospitality, and other services. This technology can also be applied in social services and healthcare, which is the direction of the current research of Alquist team members.

The Alexa
Prize
was launched in 2016 to tackle the problem of achieving natural, sustained, coherent and engaging open-domain dialogues. The $1,000,000 “Grand Prize” research grant (which has not been awarded so far) will go to the university whose socialbot will be able to talk to judges coherently and engagingly for 20 minutes on average. This year’s final is the culmination of the third iteration of this competition.

More information about the Alexa Prize 2020 here: https://www.amazon.science/latest-news/amazon-announces-2020-alexa-prize-winner-emory-universityhttps://developer.amazon.com/alexaprize

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