Inside the Story: BYU team trying to improve Amazon's Alexa technology

Inside the Story: BYU team trying to improve Amazon's Alexa technology (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) A team at Brigham Young University is part of a worldwide competition to take Amazon's Alexa technology to a whole new level of artificial intelligence.

It's called Project Eve.

The BYU team in the computer science department is trying to develop code and algorithms to get Alexa to do much more than answer basic questions.

They want to build software to get Alexa to carry on a conversation, just like a human would.

"This is one of the hardest problems that anyone knows about," Dr. David Wingate, computer science professor said . "We are trying to build artificial conversational intelligence."

That is much more challenging and difficult than it sounds.

"What we are trying to build is a system that can talk to you, like you and I can talk to each other," Nancy Fulda, the project's team leader said . "We are trying to do something that's never been done before and may not be possible, but we are really optimistic."

Project Eve is part of Amazon's second annual Alexa Prize Challenge.

BYU is one of eight universities chosen from 300 colleges across the world for the project. They were given a $250,000 grant to try and get Alexa to become more intelligent, and not just throw out standard answers.

Creating such a program is expected to take hundreds of hours over several months.

"In order to maintain a fluid conversation, a lot has to be happening under the hood," Fulda said.

But the BYU team believes they can make it happen.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think we had a chance," Fulda said.

The team has until the end of August to show what they've accomplished. Amazon will then pick three winners from the eight, and the final winner will be announced in November.

The first place prize is $500,000 that will be split between the students and not the school.

For more about the contest, visit this website.