Third-party development is the cornerstone of any ecosystem, and Amazon's Alexa could certainly be called an ecosystem at this point. With a full skill set development kit shown off by Amazon and even touted to Amazon Web Services developers in the hopes of pulling them into the Alexa development game, Alexa's future as an AI-driven assistant looks bright, but its future as a platform looks even brighter. Full, deep integration with Alexa is what Amazon is looking for in a contest that will run for an entire year. Open to full-time college students in most areas of the globe, participants will have until November of 2017 to develop an Alexa-based social chatbot. The best one gets $500,000 for the dev team and a $1 million research grant for their college, as well as a possible $1 million bonus to the dev team if the bot can carry on a conversation for a full 20 minutes.
It's already been said that bots could supplant apps in the near future, and it seems that is a future that Amazon is fully embracing, even on the social end. While the bot would obviously end up able to perform functions that net Amazon some cash, the primary focus is going to be on socialization. Passing the Turing Test isn't an explicit requirement, the winning bot will likely come close or even pass it outright. Amazon plans to provide some serious help to the teams that get into the contest, including gear, cash, and travel to make it to events related to the contest. Students also have the full content of the Washington Post, comments included, at their disposal when teaching their bots how to converse.
College-dwelling would-be botmakers have until October 28 to get their applications in, and they'll be informed if their team is in the contest by November 14. They'll be getting feedback from Amazon through most of the process, and will have to attend an event on August 15, 2017 to show off their bot. The finals take place in November of 2017, where the best performing bot will win out, and possibly earn a cool million as a bonus.