Amazon has unveiled an annual university competition dedicated to accelerating conversational artificial intelligence technology.

This year the Alexa Prize is calling on university students from around the world to submit applications to develop a ‘socialbot’ to be used on the online retailer’s voice-enabled devices.

Amazon will award the team with the highest-performing socialbot $500,000 prize with a $1m reward up for grabs if the winning teams socialbot can maintain a conversation with a human for 20 minutes.

The deadline for applications is October 28 and the contest will conclude at the Amazon Web Services Re:invent conference in November next year.

Up to 10 teams will receive a £100,000 to finance their project development.

The teams will receive Alexa-enabled hardware, AWS services and support from the online retailer’s Alexa engineers.

This is the next step for Amazon in developing its artificial intelligence offer after rolling out voice activated Amazon Echo speakers for its UK customers earlier this month, following the US launch last year.

Amazon Alexa’s vice president and head scientist Rohit Prasad said: “The Alexa Prize challenges students to build socialbots that can acquire knowledge and opinions from the web, and express them in context just as a human would in everyday conversations.

“A socialbot that can converse coherently for 20 minutes is unprecedented and at least five times more advanced than state-of-the-art conversational AI. This challenge and the immediate feedback students will receive on their best ideas from millions of engaged Alexa customers will make what we previously thought impossible, possible.”