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, compared to 2.72 - 2.36 scores and durations of 3:55 - 4:01 for the other two finalists.

To try it out, simple tell your Amazon Echo: "Let's chat!"

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.

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

Sounding Board in the press

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