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Science and Technology

UW Team Wins $500,000 for Conversational Computer

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University of Washington
Team Sounding Board from the University of Washington has won Amazon's inaugural Alexa Prize. From left: Hao Fang, Hao Cheng, Ari Holtzman, Mari Ostendorf, Maarten Sap, Elizabeth Clark, Yejin Choi

A team from the University of Washington has won a major award for artificial intelligence: the inaugural Alexa Prize from Amazon.

The $500,000 award was announced today at Amazon’s AWS re:Invent 2017 conference in Las Vegas.

“It’s so exciting, we are very proud of our team and the whole University of Washington community,” said Hao Fang, leader of Sounding Board, a team composed of UW electrical engineering and computer science graduate students and faculty.

Team Sounding Board was one of three international finalists. Their task was to develop a “socialbot” capable of sustaining a coherent conversation about popular topics for 20 minutes.

Fang said the team didn’t want just a chatterbot, they wanted it to have meaningful conversations using trending topics on the web.

“And so in this way we can actively steer the conversation when the user doesn’t specify a topic,” he said.

The $500,000 prize will be split among the five team members: Fang, Hao Cheng, Elizabeth Clark, Ariel Holtzman, and Maarten Sap.

Fang said he doesn’t know how he will spend his share.