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The Voicebot Podcast

Sep 6, 2021

Jan Sedivy is a Researcher at the Institute of Cybernetics and Robotics at the Czech Technical University (CTU) and a member of the faculty of electrical engineering. This is also his alma mater where he earned a PhD in 1983. Jan served as the faculty leader for Team Alquist from CTU which was the 2021 winner of the Amazon Alexa Prize SocialBot Grand Challenge.

The SoicalBot Grand Challenge is for university teams to develop conversational bots that can hold a conversation with a user for an average of 20 minutes and receive positive reviews. About a dozen teams are selected each year to compete. The team from the Czech Technical University has been a finalist in all four competitions for the SocialBot Grand Challenge, coming in second twice and third once. This year's competition yielded its first win for the top prize and the $500,000 reward.

We discuss the Alexa Prize process, expectations, tools, and technical approaches in today's discussion including how the university teams use the funding that Amazon offers to the semi-finalists. I don't believe there has ever been a conversation revealing this much about the inner workings of the Alexa Prize competition. In addition, we go well beyond this topic with Jan because of his rich history in the industry.

After several years as an assistant professor focused on digital signal processing, he moved to IBM where he worked on speech recognition and language interaction for over 15 years. From there, he spent time at Google before returning to academia. He is also an advisor to several companies working on a range of solutions including virtual humans and mental health chatbots.