Skip to Content
Artificial intelligence

Amazon is trying to make Alexa more chatty—but it’s very, very difficult

February 27, 2018

The online retailer held a competition to have graduate students make its personal assistant into a more conversational bot. Nobody won.

Getting to know you: In a contest dubbed Alexa Prize, Amazon challenged 15 teams to build “a socialbot that can converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes.” Three made it to the final round. The prize? Besides bragging rights, there was a cool $1 million on offer.

But: Building a chatbot is difficult. Machine learning isn’t advanced enough to do the task on its own, which means a lot of the software needs to be hand-coded. Even then, no team quite managed the goal of 20 minutes that Amazon was looking for. So the contest will be held again.

Why it matters: Companies like Amazon and Google are betting big on voice interface becoming as mainstream as search. For Amazon, a friendly voice assistant might help it convince customers to make more purchases. But $1 million says that it’s still trying.

Deep Dive

Artificial intelligence

open sourcing language models concept
open sourcing language models concept

Meta has built a massive new language AI—and it’s giving it away for free

Facebook’s parent company is inviting researchers to pore over and pick apart the flaws in its version of GPT-3

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

images created by Google Imagen
images created by Google Imagen

The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images

Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.

AGI is just chatter for now concept
AGI is just chatter for now concept

The hype around DeepMind’s new AI model misses what’s actually cool about it

Some worry that the chatter about these tools is doing the whole field a disservice.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.