Amazon announced this morning a further investment in voice technology with an expansion of its Alexa Fund Fellowship to 14 new universities, up from only 4 in 2017, the Fellowship’s first year. The program, which is designed to support conversational A.I. and speech science research, is now coming to 18 total universities, including new additions, MIT, Dartmouth and Cambridge.
Under the banner of the Alexa Fund Fellowship are two programs: The Alexa Graduate Fellowship, focused on fostering education by PhD and post-doctoral students on topics like machine learning, speech science, and conversational A.I.; as well as the Alexa Innovation Fellowship, which is aimed at helping entrepreneurship center faculty serve as voice experts on campus, Amazon says.
Only 10 of the universities are receiving the 2018-19 Graduate Fellowship – a decision that’s made based on their research interests, planned coursework, and conversational A.I. curriculum, says Amazon.
This list now includes: Carnegie Mellon; the International Institute of Information Technology in Hyperabad, India; John Hopkins; MIT; Cambridge; University of Sheffield (UK); University of Southern California (LA); University of Texas at Austin; University of Washington (Seattle); and University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada).
Meanwhile, the Innovation Fellowship will help to support on-campus entrepreneurship programs, by offering funding, Alexa devices, hardware kits, and regular training. The goal is to encourage student entrepreneurs to integrate voice technology into their startups, using Alexa’s developer services like ASK and AVS.
There are also 10 universities receiving this funding, as there’s some overlap with the prior list. These include: Arizona State University; California State University (Northridge); Carnegie Mellon; Dartmouth; Emerson College; Texas A&M University; University of California (Berkeley); University of Illinois; University of Michigan (Ann Arbor); and University of Southern California.
As a part of this year’s Fellowship, there are already a number of projects underway.
For example, Alexa Graduate Fellow Jessica van Brummelen is exploring ways to make conversational A.I. interfaces easier to create and learn at MIT; Alexa Innovation Fellow Andrew Singer, the Associate Dean of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is teaching a course on audio and signal processing that uses the Alexa Voice Services development kits; and Alexa Graduate Fellow James Thorne is studying new methods to use A.I. to verify information accuracy by way of follow-up questions at Cambridge.
With this expanded Fellowship, Amazon is seeding the system with entrepreneurs, researchers and academics who are working with voice technology, and specifically, Amazon’s Alexa voice platform. This could also help to serve as a hiring pipeline for Amazon in the future, while bringing Alexa developer tools directly to schools and classrooms.
Amazon, however is not the only company working to promote its technology at the university level. Google created its own PhD Fellowship program in 2009 which supports future faculty, industry researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs across disciplines, including voice.
The Alexa Fund Fellowship is one of several ways Amazon has been investing in Alexa technology and research. It also launched developer tools like the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) and Alexa Voice Services (AVS) and allocated $200 million to voice-related startups via the Alexa Fund.