Judging the 2018 Alexa Prize Finals

It was an honor to be a judge for the 2018 Alexa Prize Finals. The work being done by Amazon and these teams in the rapidly advancing field of conversational artificial intelligence is exciting and I’m can’t wait to see what comes next! It’s my opinion that this is a crucial next step in the development of AI and is advancing the continued evolution of the ways we will interact with so much of our technology in the future. Here’s a video recap of this year’s competition.


Educating Our Future Workforce

On Tuesday, I had the honor of kicking off Edmonds Community College’s “Kickoff Week”, addressing the professors and administrators there about “Educating Our Workforce in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.” We continued with an hour-long Q&A/conversation following the presentation and I really enjoyed seeing how proactive and engaged everyone was. We had such a productive conversation around so many important topics and potential strategies! From artificial intelligence to diversity issues to the rapidly growing space industry, we explored new ways to help prepare their students to be part of the rapidly changing workforce.

Futurist Richard Yonck

Futurist Richard Yonck

Space industry forecast

Back to School Days

I spent an amazing couple of hours with a few dozen students at the University of Washington’s “Smart Machines & The Future of Humanity” course on Monday. While not focused on focused on futures methodology, I’m really pleased to see college courses focused on trying to anticipate and understand the future. Insightful questions and conversations confirm my belief in our world’s next generation of stewards. The “Future of Humanity” is in good hands.

Richard and TED’s Excellent Adventure

Okay, titling this post “Richard and TED’s Excellent Adventure” is a bit corny, but it’s accurate too. My experience applying to, preparing for and presenting at my first TEDx event was a most excellent adventure! The quality of TEDxSnoIsleLibraries’ organization and coaching was superb and it was both a pleasure and an honor to speak alongside so many interesting and passionate people. If you’ve ever wanted to do a TED talk – more importantly, if you have an “idea worth spreading” (the official TED slogan), then I highly recommend getting in contact with a nearby TEDx event. (There are literally thousands of TEDx taking place around the world!)

What was my “idea worth spreading?” I spoke about how technology has transformed human intelligence throughout history and how it is likely to continue to do so well into the future. It’s just one small component of a new book I’m working on, which should be out in 2019. So think of this as an early peek!

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.