Judging Amazon’s Alexa Prize

You may not be able to judge a book by it’s cover, but you certainly can judge a bot by its conversation! I recently had the pleasure of being one of the finalist judges for Amazon’s $2.5 million Alexa Prize. This inaugural competition focused on the grand challenge of building a socialbot that can converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes. That’s quite a challenge, especially given that most of us know probably some people who would have trouble meeting this challenge. While this is still early days, organizers said the teams had already made considerable progress in this first year. Many hope the challenge will be met in the next few years.

For this year’s competition, final announcements and awards were made at AWS re:Invent 2017, Amazon’s annual development conference held in Las Vegas. The winning team was Team Sounding Board, University of Washington, with an average score of 3.17 and average duration of 10 minutes and 22 seconds. The student team members will share in the $500,000 prize, with the other two teams, Team Alquist, Czech Technical University, Prague, Czech Republic and What’s Up Bot, Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK winning $100,000 and $50,000 respectively. All teams remained anonymous to the judges throughout the competition.

For me, it was extra exciting because this is such a key AI component in what will I anticipate will soon be the development of personal digital assistants. Not only that but it’s highly relevant to the new book I’m currently working on.

Clients and Podcasts and Forbes…Oh My!

It’s been a busy week! Clients, interviews, research, writing and prepping for a TEDx talk had me wearing many hats and keeping lots of balls in the air. (That’s either a mixed-metaphor or I’m in the circus. Perhaps it’s both!)

The week started with an interview for the RoboPsych podcast with Tom Guarriello and Julie Carpenter. A fun conversation with two super-smart people. (Tom’s doctorate is in existential-phenomenological psychology and Julie’s is in Learning (Cognitive) Sciences.) Her famous dissertation and research on human-robot interaction in militarized spaces had a definite influence on my own book, HEART OF THE MACHINE. You can listen to Episode #49 here.

Mid-week saw an interview I did a couple months ago included in a new Forbes article, “Is There A Robot ‘Friend’ In Your Future?” Written by a fellow classmate from the University of Houston, journalist Steve Outing explores the rapidly approaching future in which robots take on a number of the caregiving roles traditionally performed by humans.

Thursday found me in Longview, WA presenting at a meeting of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges Workforce Education Council. (Whew, no wonder they prefer the acronyms SBCTC WEC!) It was a fascinating conversation with the council as well as with my co-presenter for the session, economist Chris Mefford. We explored the impact of future technological change on education and labor needs. It was inspiring to see educators and administrators being so proactive in addressing the future of our rapidly transforming economy.

Emotion AI Summit at MIT Media Lab

I’m thrilled to be speaking at the Emotion AI Summit at MIT Media Lab next month! It’s a one-day event focused on artificial emotional intelligence and features Nicholas Negroponte, Rosalind Picard, Rana el Kaliouby, Cynthia Breazeal, AI scientists from Google and Amazon and many others who are central to this rapidly developing field, as well as to my new book, “Heart of the Machine”.

From the web site:

Affectiva is organizing the first ever Emotion AI Summit. At this summit we will explore how artificial emotional intelligence, or Emotion AI, can move us to deeper connections with technology, with businesses and with the people we care about.

Join us for a thought provoking day, in which business and technology leaders  will discuss Emotion AI, and how it’s transformative to many areas including conversational interfaces, social robotics, automotive, education, gaming, retail, wellness and consumer insights.

We will explore the practical applications of Emotion AI today and where it will go in the future.

Read more & register at: EmotionAISummit.com

If you’re in the Boston area on Sept 13th, I hope you’ll join us!

2017 APF Global Health Futures Gathering

The Association of Professional Futurists had their 2017 Gathering in Seattle this past weekend and it was a huge success! Centered around a theme of Global Health Futures, we explored issues dealing with the future of human health, planetary and environmental health and literally extraplanetary health! This later addressed our need as a species to extend humanity well beyond the earth if we are to survive in the longterm as a species. As session moderator Glen Hiemstra explained, the Fermi Paradox asks an important question about where everyone else is in what should be a universe teeming with life. One speculation is that most of these civilizations destroy themselves before they can spread beyond their planet of origination. This same bottleneck may await us, and as I wrote many years ago, we need to “make a backup.”

Sarah Chesemore (left) and Brian Arbogast (right) of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation discuss global health trends with University of Washington health policy researcher Jan Flowers (center) during the Association of Professional Futurists’ gathering in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)
There were lots of other events and sessions as well, including the Friday morning session I moderated that looked at human health futures for the billions of people who don’t have the most basic levels of health care, including a sanitary toilet system and vaccinations against preventable diseases. This currently leads to millions of people dying needlessly each year, with the majority of these being newborns and children under five, the weakest and most vulnerable among us. I was pleased and proud to be able to have a role in such an important and meaningful discussion.

GeekWire’s Geek of the Week

GeekWire, the national technology news site just made me their “Geek of the Week“. Given all the amazing tech talent in the Seattle and Puget Sound region, it’s quite the accolade. Half interview, half bio, it’s definitely great publicity, not to mention a good introduction to what a futurist does.

We live in such an incredibly rich, vastly complex universe, I can’t help be continually fascinated thinking about how it functions, how it came about, and where it’s going.”

Geek of the Week: I think it’s a fun read and hope you will too!

Westworld & Consciousness in Psychology Today

westworld2My latest is Psychology Today is titled “Westworld, Emotion and the Dilemma of Machine Consciousness“. It explores the future of AI and the feasibility of machine consciousness through the lens of HBO’s hit series “Westworld“. Drawing from the ideas set out in my book, “Heart of the Machine“, the article is a very condensed version of the evolutionary, neurological and philosophical evidence that may makes up part of the foundation of human consciousness. Westworld draws on this and a few less accepted theories about what it might take to give rise to consciousness in an AI. The article is in two parts. It’s also been cross-posted to Medium.com.