The Alexa Prize program has empowered numerous university students to explore, experiment, and showcase their talents in building conversational agents through challenges like the SocialBot Grand Challenge and the TaskBot Challenge. As conversational agents increasingly appear in multimodal and embodied contexts, it is important to explore the affordances of conversational interaction augmented with computer vision and physical embodiment. This paper describes the SimBot Challenge, a new challenge in which university teams compete to build robot assistants that complete tasks in a simulated physical environment. This paper provides an overview of the SimBot Challenge, which included both online and offline challenge phases. We describe the infrastructure and support provided to the teams including Alexa Arena, the simulated environment, and the ML toolkit provided to teams to accelerate their building of vision and language models. We summarize the approaches the participating teams took to overcome research challenges and extract key lessons learned. Finally, we provide analysis of the performance of the competing SimBots during the competition.
We introduce Alexa Arena, a user-centric simulation platform for Embodied AI (EAI) research. Alexa Arena provides a variety of multi-room layouts and interactable objects, for the creation of human-robot interaction (HRI) missions. With user-friendly graphics and control mechanisms, Alexa Arena supports the development of gamified robotic tasks readily accessible to general human users, thus opening a new venue for high-efficiency HRI data collection and EAI system evaluation. Along with the platform, we introduce a dialog-enabled instruction-following benchmark and provide baseline results for it. We make Alexa Arena publicly available to facilitate research in building generalizable and assistive embodied agents.
Since its inception in 2016, the Alexa Prize program has enabled hundreds of university students to explore and compete to develop conversational agents through the SocialBot Grand Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to build agents capable of conversing coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes, while achieving an average rating of at least 4.0/5.0. However, as conversational agents attempt to assist users with increasingly complex tasks, new conversational AI techniques and evaluation platforms are needed. The Alexa Prize TaskBot challenge, established in 2021, builds on the success of the SocialBot challenge by introducing the requirements of interactively assisting humans with real-world Cooking and Do-It-Yourself tasks, while making use of both voice and visual modalities. This challenge requires the TaskBots to identify and understand the user's need, identify and integrate task and domain knowledge into the interaction, and develop new ways of engaging the user without distracting them from the task at hand, among other challenges. This paper provides an overview of the TaskBot challenge, describes the infrastructure support provided to the teams with the CoBot Toolkit, and summarizes the approaches the participating teams took to overcome the research challenges. Finally, it analyzes the performance of the competing TaskBots during the first year of the competition.
Building open domain conversational systems that allow users to have engaging conversations on topics of their choice is a challenging task. Alexa Prize was launched in 2016 to tackle the problem of achieving natural, sustained, coherent and engaging open-domain dialogs. In the second iteration of the competition in 2018, university teams advanced the state of the art by using context in dialog models, leveraging knowledge graphs for language understanding, handling complex utterances, building statistical and hierarchical dialog managers, and leveraging model-driven signals from user responses. The 2018 competition also included the provision of a suite of tools and models to the competitors including the CoBot (conversational bot) toolkit, topic and dialog act detection models, conversation evaluators, and a sensitive content detection model so that the competing teams could focus on building knowledge-rich, coherent and engaging multi-turn dialog systems. This paper outlines the advances developed by the university teams as well as the Alexa Prize team to achieve the common goal of advancing the science of Conversational AI. We address several key open-ended problems such as conversational speech recognition, open domain natural language understanding, commonsense reasoning, statistical dialog management, and dialog evaluation. These collaborative efforts have driven improved experiences by Alexa users to an average rating of 3.61, the median duration of 2 mins 18 seconds, and average turns to 14.6, increases of 14%, 92%, 54% respectively since the launch of the 2018 competition. For conversational speech recognition, we have improved our relative Word Error Rate by 55% and our relative Entity Error Rate by 34% since the launch of the Alexa Prize. Socialbots improved in quality significantly more rapidly in 2018, in part due to the release of the CoBot toolkit.
Conversational agents are exploding in popularity. However, much work remains in the area of social conversation as well as free-form conversation over a broad range of domains and topics. To advance the state of the art in conversational AI, Amazon launched the Alexa Prize, a 2.5-million-dollar university competition where sixteen selected university teams were challenged to build conversational agents, known as socialbots, to converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics such as Sports, Politics, Entertainment, Fashion and Technology for 20 minutes. The Alexa Prize offers the academic community a unique opportunity to perform research with a live system used by millions of users. The competition provided university teams with real user conversational data at scale, along with the user-provided ratings and feedback augmented with annotations by the Alexa team. This enabled teams to effectively iterate and make improvements throughout the competition while being evaluated in real-time through live user interactions. To build their socialbots, university teams combined state-of-the-art techniques with novel strategies in the areas of Natural Language Understanding, Context Modeling, Dialog Management, Response Generation, and Knowledge Acquisition. To support the efforts of participating teams, the Alexa Prize team made significant scientific and engineering investments to build and improve Conversational Speech Recognition, Topic Tracking, Dialog Evaluation, Voice User Experience, and tools for traffic management and scalability. This paper outlines the advances created by the university teams as well as the Alexa Prize team to achieve the common goal of solving the problem of Conversational AI.