Jill Watson Team Reaches Semifinals in IBM AI XPrize Competition

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Algorithms that help answer the stream of questions college students have each semester might be welcome by any instructor who can offload FAQs to such an artificially intelligent teaching assistant (TA).

Jill Watson – Georgia Tech’s AI designed explicitly for this purpose – turned four years old this January, with the AI’s birthday coinciding with the announcement of the 10 semifinalists for IBM’s AI XPrize competition. Georgia Tech’s emPrize team, led by Professor of Interactive Computing Ashok Goel and utilizing Jill Watson as the key technology, was named as one of the semifinalists.

The competition started in 2016, the year of Jill’s arrival in a graduate computer science course at Georgia Tech, and has “sought to accelerate the adoption of AI technologies and spark creative, innovative, and audacious demonstrations of the technology that are truly scalable to solve societal grand challenges.” After nearly four calendar years, XPrize will name a winner in April.

As part of the GT emPrize team’s work, the Jill Watson TA not only answers student questions about course requirements but can answer questions about another AI named VERA, or the Virtual Ecological Research Assistant.

Jill helps users learn how to use VERA, a system which enables students in GT’s Intro to Biology course (and online science seekers) to create their own ecological models from a web browser. Unlike the Jill Watson TA, which is currently used only by GT students, VERA is open to anyone with an internet connection.

Another part of emPrize is the Jill Social Agent, whose lead designer, Ida Camacho, is a recent alumna of Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science in Computer Science program (OMSCS) and understands the pressures and uncertainties of online learning.

The Jill Social Agent in essence gives students just starting online courses a chance at “speed friending”. If online students feel they have more peer support and connections from the start, this might translate into success in the course. Hear from Camacho on the Tech Unbound podcast with GVU Center as she reveals some of her AI’s design and the educational experience that informed her work on emPrize.

Learn more at or explore a timeline of Jill's evolution.


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: David Mitchell
  • Created: 02/04/2020
  • Modified By: David Mitchell
  • Modified: 02/04/2020


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