Amazon's Alexa University Sandbox

Amazon is extending its push to have third-party developers work on Alexa skills in the classroom. The online retail giant recently told Reuters about the launch of a new program to encourage university students to research, develop and build skills for its voice-activated AI assistant as a means to get young minds interested in AI research.

The retail giant will reportedly pay for a doctoral fellowship at four different universities — Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, the University of Southern California and the University of Waterloo — for an undisclosed amount. As part of the Alexa Fund Fellowship, students will reportedly use Amazon’s AI to learn how to solve complex programming problems around text-to-speech and natural language processing.

“We want Alexa to be a great sandbox for students,” said Douglas Booms, vice president of worldwide corporate development at Amazon, in an interview last week. He reportedly added that the fellowship’s goal was not to produce research for Amazon; as such, the projects students work on will remain their intellectual property.

Funding for the new fellowship reportedly comes from the Alexa Fund, Amazon’s $100 million investment to fuel voice tech.

“Experiences designed around the human voice will fundamentally improve the way people use technology,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, upon the launch of the Alexa Fund back in 2015. “Since introducing Amazon Echo, we’ve heard from developers, manufacturers and startups of all sizes who want to innovate with this new technology. With the Alexa Fund, we want to empower people to explore the boundaries of voice technology. We’re eager to see what they come up with.”

Amazon also launched the Alexa Skills Kit — a collection of self-service APIs and tools for developers to add voice-driven skills to the technology — around the same time. Recently, Alexa added her 10,000th skill — a game called “Beat the Intro,” which had already been seen on the App Store and Google Play.



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