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The New X Prize Will Award $5 Million for Innovation in Artificial Intelligence

Teams will be asked to pick their own challenge in AI to address.
Peter Diamandis. Image: Flickr/Red Maxwell

X Prize Foundation head Peter Diamandis and IBM Watson general manager David Kenny announced Wednesday morning that the organizations are teaming up to launch a competition in which international teams will race to design some impressive new artificial intelligence tech by 2020.

Artificial intelligence is a fitting topic for the latest X Prize, which has been throwing millions of dollars at insane, impossible-sounding projects for 21 years. Artificial intelligence is in vogue, with everyone from Google to the US military investing in its development, but scientists are still trying to figure out how to get AI to complete even basic human tasks. For example, walking on uneven ground or learning how to do something without forgetting the last thing it learned have proven difficult for machines.


The X Prize's AI competition will allow the teams to define their own area of AI to tackle, whether that be image recognition, natural voice processing, or something else, in the hopes of pushing humanity's overall mastery over AI forward just a bit. Nobody is going to be cooking up SkyNet for $5 million, but they may just make something useful. Formal guidelines for the competition, including how to define "artificial intelligence," will be released in May.

"There's a narrative that's taken over, and it's a black and white narrative that focuses too much on long-term artificial intelligence," said Stephanie Wander, a representative for the X Prize Foundation. "We felt that was a disservice for people understanding what artificial intelligence will do for us in the very near term."

The competition, which was announced at TED 2016, will conclude on the TED Talks stage in 2020, when the audience will decide which project was the most impressive. The three finalists will be decided on by a panel of experts. How the voting process will work, as well as other details and requirements of the competition, are still being finalized, Wander said.

Previously, the X Prize Foundation has monetarily rewarded international teams for designing bold new tech for measuring ocean acidity and trying to send a robot into space. Both of those X Prizes amounted to more than $10 million, however, putting the AI competition on the bottom rung of even previous X Prize outings—forget about other independent AI research hubs.

But if there's one thing that the rapid rise of artificial intelligence, a field once thought of as being where promising careers go to die, has taught us, it's that scientific advancements can pop up in surprising places.