In what appears to be the largest hackathon purse ever, Amazon is launching a year-long competition in search of the Alexa-based socialbot that can carry-on the best 20 minute conversation. The competition is only open to college and university students. While the team with the best performing socialbot (even if it falls short of the 20 minute objective) will be awarded $500,000 in cash (awarded in the form of checks divided equally among all team members), the winning team's university will be awarded a $1 million research grant from Amazon. So, in essence, that's $1.5 million total purse that goes to the winner. But, as an added incentive, if that socialbot is able to coherently handle the 20 minute conversation, Amazon will cough-up an additional $1 million in prize monies bringing the total potential purse to $2.5 million.
The previous single prize record for a hackathon victory -- $1 million -- was awarded by Salesforce during Dreamforce in 2013. But that outcome was shrouded in controversy as news later came out that the winning app was in development long before window to start coding opened. The flames of the controversy were fanned even brighter when it was discovered that the winners were former Salesforce employees.
Amazon is accepting applications now and will narrow the field down to 10 teams to which it will provide technology, cash, and whatever travel expenses are necessary to be present at certain competition-related activities. Amazon has launched a website that outlines the rules along with the eight phases of the competition which culminate in a "Finals" that will be built into the agenda of Amazon Web Services' Re:Invent Conference in 2017. The entrants must build their entries using the Alexa Skills Kit. According to a press release from Amazon, "participants will have access to conversational topic categories and digital content from multiple sources, including The Washington POST, which has agreed to make its complete news Feed and comments available to the students for non-commercial use."