Spotlight on the Semifinalist, emPrize

Feb 15 2021

Meet The $5M IBM Watson AI XPRIZE Semifinalists: emPrize

The Georgia Tech team have created the world’s first AI teaching assistant to improve access to education

There are several challenges we face around education today: teacher shortages, and the high cost of tuition fees, are two examples. EmPrize’s tech combines teacher knowledge with student inputted data to help solve this problem, coming up with the world’s first AI teaching assistant, Jill Watson. The system can answer students’ questions 24 hours a day. By making higher education more accessible, affordable and achievable, their tech can open it up to more people, from a greater range of backgrounds and locations, giving more people a shot at the education they deserve. 

Below, members of the emPrize team (in total, made up of about a dozen faculty, staff, and graduate and undergraduate students at Georgia Tech in Atlanta) answer our questions about competing in the $5M IBM Watson AI XPRIZE. 

Can you explain more about the global issue you're tackling, and how?

We seek to enhance the achievability of online higher education so that more learners can complete their education and succeed in their learning goals. Our AI technologies enhance cognitive engagement, teacher presence, and social interaction in online higher education. For example, our virtual teaching assistant named Jill Watson automatically answers students’ questions, SAMI makes links among students, and VERA enables students to conduct virtual experiments.

What made you want to enter the $5M IBM WATSON AI XPRIZE and how has the competition furthered your success?

We entered for an opportunity to meet other teams and join the ecosystem of entrepreneurship. The competition has brought our team additional visibility both internally within Georgia Tech and externally out there in the world.

What's been your team's biggest challenge so far?

The biggest challenge has been the time, labor, and expertise required to build and scale our tools. We need to make the building of the virtual teaching assistants so easy that any teacher can build one.

Why is what your team is doing important now, and how do you see it scaling up in the future?

Scalability is a key consideration. We are building AI tools that can help create AI teaching assistants efficiently so that the entire process is scalable. COVID-19 has made online education more important than ever. Although logistically, it has made meetings, travel, and capital generation more difficult for our team. 

What team accomplishment are you most proud of? 

Actual deployment of our technology in multiple educational contexts to help real people. We already have used Jill Watson, SAMI, and VERA to help thousands of online students

Outside of your work, what's an area of AI that's exciting you right now?

Human-AI collaboration. I think this will be part of the future of AI.