Sounding Board
Content-driven conversational AI, winner of the inaugural Amazon Alexa Prize

Quick links:  [Alexa Prize website]   [contact us]

For research or press inquiries only, contact the team at this email address.

Sounding Board is the winning socialbot in the Alexa Prize, an Amazon competition to further conversational artificial intelligence. Our socialbot's approach focuses on finding interesting content to talk about with the users, while trying to understand who the user is.

Starting out with 15 teams competing for the semi-finals, we were selected as one of three finalists based on customer experience. During the finals, expert conversationalists interacted with Sounding Board while judges observed. Our bot won the competition, scoring a 3.17 on a 5-point scale and had an average conversation length of 10:22.

How does it work?

Sounding Board is built on top of the Alexa Skills Kit powered by Echo devices, and most of the computation is done in the cloud.

At each talk turn, the Echo device sends the recognized text to our cloud system. There, our algorithm decides how to take the conversation further through a two-tiered dialogue manager. Based on what the user said, we may query our databases for recent news or interesting facts about a certain topic. Once ready, our system generates a response combining natural dialogue markers with queried news or facts. The response is then sent back to the Echo device where it is turned into audio signal.

Here is a video demo of Sounding Board.

Who created Sounding Board?

Graduate students at the University of Washington Faculty advisors
Team members standing on the UW campus Team members standing on the UW campus
The Sounding Board team accepting their first place trophy in Las Vegas at AWS re:Invent! Left to right: Hao F., Hao C., Ari, Mari, Maarten, Elizabeth, Yejin (missing: Noah)

Team members standing on the UW campus Team members standing on the UW campus
Meet the Sounding Board team! Left to right: Noah, Maarten, Ari, Mari, Elizabeth, Hao F., Yejin, Hao C.

Team photo at the alexa prize summit Team photo at the alexa prize summit
The Sounding Board students at the Alexa Prize Summit in April! Left to right: Elizabeth, Maarten, Hao C., Hao F., Ari

Publications and Talks

Mari Ostendorf. Building a Socialbot: Lessions Learned from 10M Conversations. Keynote at NAACL 2018, New Orleans, Louisiana. June 2, 2018. [slides]
Hao Fang, Hao Cheng, Maarten Sap, Elizabeth Clark, Ari Holtzman, Yejin Choi, Noah A. Smith, and Mari Ostendorf. Sounding Board – A user-centric and content-driven social chatbot. In Proc. Conf. North American Chapter Assoc. for Computational Linguistics (NAACL): System Demonstrations, New Orleans, Louisiana. June 1-6, 2018. [paper]

Sounding Board in the press

The Verge - James Vincent, Inside Amazon’s $3.5 Million Competition to Make Alexa Chat like a Human  June 13, 2018

GeekWire - Taylor Soper, Secrets of the $500K Amazon Alexa Prize winner: Inside the Univ. of Washington's "socialbot"  April 26, 2018

Wired - James Vlahos, Inside the Alexa Prize  February 27, 2018

Q13 (Fox) - Brian Flores, UW students create conversational Amazon Alexa device  January 8, 2018

Daily UW - Michael Blume, UW student team wins first place in Amazon Alexa competition  January 4, 2018

Seattle Times - Katherine Long, UW students teach Alexa to have a little chat with us  November 28, 2017

KOMO News (ABC), UW team wins $500,000 prize from Amazon for conversational bot  November 28, 2017

Amazon Alexa Blog - Ashwin Ram, University of Washington Students Win Inaugural Alexa Prize  November 28, 2017

KOMO News (ABC) - Matt Markovich, UW team finalist for $1 million prize to hold 20-minute conversation with Amazon's Alexa  November 20, 2017

GeekWire - Taylor Soper, Amazon reveals 3 university finalists for $2.5M Alexa Prize — including one from Univ. of Washington  August 29, 2017