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CMU Students Working To Make Amazon Alexa More Talkative, Engaging

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Amazon Alexa may soon become more talkative, thanks to a team of students at Carnegie Mellon University.

Alexa is quite good at answering simple questions, such as "What's the temperature today?" and "How many miles to Los Angeles?"

But you can't really have a conversation with her, at least not yet.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

A team of Carnegie Mellon students is one of eight squads around the world Amazon awarded a quarter million dollars to try to change that. They're all trying to make the device capable of a 20-minute conversation.

Do Alexa owners even want that? Well, the ones KDKA talked with agreed that it's a cool idea, in theory.

"Depends on the smoothness of conversation I suppose," said Dave Capezzuto, an Amazon Alexa owner from the Strip District. "But I do own one, and it sometimes has trouble answering what the weather is, so it could take some time."

CMU's 11-member team, however, is up for the challenge.

"We've all had the call center calls where they automate you and usually it's the worst experience," said George Larionov, from the CMU Alexa Prize Team. "So our mission is to do something like that, but in a casual conversation."

"The more natural it becomes, the more we would get connected to it better," said Pravalika Avvaru, who's also on the CMU Alexa Prize Team.

They're trying to create something called a "socialbot" which could talk about a range of topics from current events to sports, and even ask for your opinion. The goal is to truly engage you.

"What that means is keeping a person wanting to talk," said Alex Rudnicky, the CMU's Alexa Prize Team Mentor. "What we're trying to do is understand how conversations work."

Finalists in the contest will be chosen over the summer. Then, they'll compete for a half million dollar grand prize in the fall.

If they do really well, they could earn the school a $1 million grant.

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