Amazon wants help improving Alexa

Online book seller Amazon.com has launched a new programme to help students build capabilities into its voice controlled assistant Alexa.

The e-commerce company said it is paying for a year long doctoral fellowship at four universities.

Working with professors, the Alexa Fund Fellows will help students tackle complex technology problems in class on Alexa, like how to convert text to speech or process conversation.

Amazon and Google is locked in a race to develop and make cash from artificial intelligence. Amazon has made it easy for third party developers to create skills for Alexa so it can get better faster – a tactic it now is extending to the classroom.

The other idea is that Amazon might be able to recruit sought after engineers whose studies will make them more familiar with Alexa than with other voice controlled assistants.

Schools signed up for the programme include Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, the University of Southern California and Canada’s University of Waterloo.

Doug Booms, vice president of worldwide corporate development at Amazon, said that the fellowship’s goal is to excite the next generation of scholars about natural language understanding and other voice technologies, not to produce research for Amazon.

Students’ projects will remain their own intellectual property.

For example at the University of Waterloo, students are improving Alexa’s interaction with air conditioners so it understands requests to cool a room to its normal temperature, without requiring the user to specify a number in Celsius.