Amazon's Alexa Fund Fellowship, which financially supports conversational artificial intelligence and voice technology research at the university level, will now include 18 universities for the 2018-2019 academic year, according to a TechCrunch report.
Of the 18 schools now in the program, the U.S. universities participating include Dartmouth, MIT, John Hopkins, University of Southern California, Carnegie Mellon, the University of Washington in Seattle and the University of Texas. U.K. institutions benefiting from the fellowship are Cambridge and the University of Sheffield. The other two schools involved are the International Institute of Information Technology in Hyderabad, India and the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
The Alexa Fund Fellowship actually offers two separate fellowships — the Alexa Graduate Fellowship, which provides "funding and mentorship to PhD and post-doctoral students" working with advanced conversational AI research, and the Alexa Innovation Fellowship, which "inspires and enables student entrepreneurs to enhance their products with voice," according to the Alexa Fellowship page on Amazon's website.
Amazon is trying to reach as far, wide and deep with its Alexa ecosystem as possible, especially as more companies bring forth competitive challenges to Amazon's voice-based virtual assistant and the smart speakers and other gadgets in which it lives.
Samsung is the latest such competitor, but Google and others have been working to put a dent in Amazon's dominant market share in this area, and these efforts may be starting to pay off. A Strategy Analytics study recently found that Amazon's smart speaker market share fell from 76% to 41% over the last year. Smart speakers are just one aspect of Amazon's very broad play with Alexa, but such a slide would be likely to grab Amazon's attention.
Amazon's ongoing leadership in conversational AI will depend on technology advancements and product innovations, such as the integration between Alexa and Microsoft's Cortana, but it also will depend on Amazon's ability to feed the Alexa ecosystem by supporting — financially and otherwise — all kinds of technology and product developments that can leverage Alexa in one way or another. The company's past efforts to give developers access to some of its core technology have demonstrated one way of doing that, and the Alexa Fund and related programs like these fellowships showcase other ways.
One of those Alexa Fund programs, the Alexa Accelerator venture with Techstars, recently chose nine voice technology start-ups to assist with mentorship, investment and other help. The Alexa Fund Fellowship is similarly-themed, but focused on developments in academia, and shows that Amazon will leave no stone unturned when looking for ways to further Alexa and the conversational AI sector.