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

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

The viral AI avatar app Lensa undressed me—without my consent

My avatars were cartoonishly pornified, while my male colleagues got to be astronauts, explorers, and inventors.

Roomba testers feel misled after intimate images ended up on Facebook

An MIT Technology Review investigation recently revealed how images of a minor and a tester on the toilet ended up on social media. iRobot said it had consent to collect this kind of data from inside homes—but participants say otherwise.

How to spot AI-generated text

The internet is increasingly awash with text written by AI software. We need new tools to detect it.

Stay connected

Illustration 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.