The Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge (SGC) is one of the top competitions organized by Amazon to bring outstanding universities teams to develop the most engaging and intelligent open-domain conversational systems (or chatbots). The competition targets a system that can be used by real users connecting through an Alexa device and being able to keep conversations for more than 20 minutes and obtaining users’ ratings above 4.0 or higher (out of 5.0). The competition was launched in 2016 and every edition brings new improvements and challenges.
For its fifth edition, the following nine universities (in alphabetical order) were selected: Carnegie Mellon University, Czech Technical University in Prague (winner of the previous edition), Stanford University (second place during SGC3 and SGC4), Stevens Institute of Technology, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, University of California (Santa Barbara), University of California (Santa Cruz), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Virginia Tech. The selection process is very competitive as candidate teams needs to apply with a proposal showing novel ideas that can go beyond the state of the art, create impact and interest on real users, the capacity of the students’ team to demonstrate they can bring into reality those ideas, as well as a well-known research trajectory for the university in the topic.
Although the competition has previously focused mainly on overall performance, this year Amazon is also promoting a separate award for scientific invention and innovation. Winning teams from both categories will earn cash prizes which will be paid out to the students’ teams; $250,000 for first place, $50,000 for second place, and $25,000 for third place. Finally, the first team to meet the Grand Challenge will win a $1 million research grant for their university.
The SGC5 will be the second time a UPM team will participate. For the SGC4, we were the first and only Spanish university and our team reached the semifinals with very competitive results. For this last edition, we are again the only Spanish team, and one of two from Europe (together with the team from Czech Republic, the current winners). All other teams are from high top institutions in the USA. Our team (named THAURUS) is composed of 7 students (4 men and 3 women) from PhD and master’s studies. The team leader is Marcos Estecha-Garitagoitia (PhD), together with Mario Rodríguez-Cantelar (PhD), Alfredo Garrachón Ruiz, Claudia Garoé Fernández García, Sergio Esteban Romero, Cristina Conforto López, and Fiorella Jhonson García. Finally, the Faculty advisor is Dr. Luis Fernando D’Haro, who is associate professor, member of the Information Processing and Telecommunications Center (IPTC), and member of Grupo de Tecnología del Habla y Aprendizaje Automático (THAU – ascribed to Dpto. de Ingeniería Electrónica).
The competition starts in November 2022 and will last until August 2023. Our team is very excited to participate and motivated to go for the first place. Wish us for the best, meanwhile we commit to continue doing history for our university and to bring closer this kind of conversational systems to the social needs of our society.