For many people, the term artificial intelligence is loaded with unnerving connotations, conjuring images of science fiction catastrophes and killer robots. But beneath all of the pearl clutching, AI research continues apace in many different fields with the goal of promoting collaboration between humans and machine.
Organizers of the IBM Watson AI XPrize for artificial intelligence research announced today that 59 teams from around the world have advanced to the next phase of the group's latest global competition. Among the AI projects being developed: an AI-powered satellite system for monitoring agricultural disease and a mental health data system to help physicians treat depression.
No killer robots in sight.
The XPrize competition aims to accelerate research and development in the field of AI by offering scientists that reliably appealing incentive — cold, hard cash.
A $3 million grand prize, $1 million second-place prize and $500,000 third-place prize will be awarded to the teams that receive the top scores in the competition. Additionally, $500,000 Milestone Prizes will be awarded in the fall of both 2018 and 2019.
The XPrize Foundation, established in 1995, has hosted a series of similar high-profile competitions over the years, challenging technologists to solve specific problems in areas including renewable energy, ocean exploration, and — most famously — spaceships.
The 59 teams in the artificial intelligence competition were selected from an initial pool of 147 registrants. The competition spans a wide variety of research sectors, including transportation, medical technology, robotics, and education. Many of the teams hail from university research labs or startup companies.
The teams that have advanced are from the United States, Canada, Australia, Barbados, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam.
The AI competition is structured a little differently from previous contests, according to XPrize representative Amir Banifatemi.
“XPrizes are usually about inviting teams to solve specific problems,” Banifatemi told Seeker. “But artificial intelligence is at a crossroads and it it's not always obvious to identify one specific problem, because AI is everywhere.”
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With that in mind, contest organizers have encouraged the research teams to set their own goals for the contest. As the competition progresses, XPrize judges will assess not only the efficacy of the technology, but also the relative difficulty and ambition of the stated goal. Teams are required to slot their project in one of several designated domains, including Health and Wellness, Learning and Human Potential, Civil Society, Space and New Frontiers, Shelter and Infrastructure, and Energy and Resources.
“Teams are invited to choose a domain that they want to be solving problems for,” Banifatemi said, “and within that domain, try to develop solutions using AI and showcasing man-machine cooperation.”
That last bit is crucial, Banifatemi added. Rather than just promote new AI technologies, the competition is designed for human and AI collaboration. Two projects, in particular, highlight that goal.
Brown University's Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative is currently pursuing a major research thread designed to imbue future AI systems with human notions of morals and ethics. One of the university’s projects is dedicated to developing core AI technologies that are able to represent, learn, and follow the norms of human communities.
“We label this set of abilities ‘norm competence’ and we bring together social, cognitive, and computer sciences to advance research both on how such norm competence appears in the human mind and how it might be implemented in artificial minds,” according to the HCRI project page.
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The Brown University team is one of 10 designated top teams that will be recognized and showcased later this week at the annual conference on Neural Information Processing Systems in Long Beach, California.
In another nod to the fast pace of AI development, additional teams will have an opportunity to enter the competition through two Wild Card rounds, with the first round closing on Dec. 20 and the second round set to open in 2018.
“If the team can demonstrate to the judges that they can, in fact, have a value proposition that they can solve problems with AI, then they're invited to join the competition,” Banifatemi said.
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