Cognitive Business: Innovate and Win the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE of $5 Million

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Photo by Greg Rakozy

In this Cognitive Business interview we speak with Amir Banifatemi, Prize Lead of the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE, Managing Partner at K5 Ventures, Tech Coast Angel Board Member, and TEDxLA Curator.

Before we get to the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE of $5 Million, I need to ask: why do you do everything you do and why does AI interest you?

I do it to be part of the innovation ecosystem to the extent that I can. Sometimes that translates into being involved in supporting functions, and sometimes requires investment efforts. As for AI: in the past few years billions of dollars have been invested in AI research and hundreds of companies are focused on developing what is the most important technology of our time. There have been also tremendous advancements in many areas of AI, machine learning, deep learning and neural networks, predictive analytics, Natural language processing, and beyond. I’m excited to see AI augment intelligence, transform the relationship between man and machine, and lead the next evolution of technology and human’s capabilities.

Presented with TED and sponsored by IBM, the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE was announced live on stage at TED2016 in Vancouver on February 17 by Dave Kenny of IBM Watson. This latest XPRIZE is a four-year global cognitive computing competition challenging teams to develop and demonstrate powerful Human — AI collaboration capable of solving some of the world’s Grand Challenges. This “open” competition is structured to allow teams to define their own challenges and demonstrate their solutions as part of a series of annual showcases culminating in a Grand Prize Competition on the TED stage in 2020. The IBM Watson AI XPRIZE competition will inspire teams to demonstrate positive, near-term uses of AI, and ultimately help improve the public’s understanding of AI and how it will transform our lives for the better.

XPRIZE is a non-profit organization that designs and manages public competitions intended to encourage technological development that could benefit mankind. Its mission is to bring about ‘radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity’ through incentivized competition. ” — Wikipedia

So, what is the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE all about?
In 2004, XPRIZE awarded the first-ever XPRIZE competition. The Ansari XPRIZE, funded by the Ansari family, challenged teams from around the world to build a reliable, reusable, privately financed, manned spaceship capable of carrying three people to 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface twice within two weeks. The Paul Allen-backed, Burt Rutan-led winning team, Mojave Aerospace Ventures proved it could be done. When the prize was awarded, it kickstarted the commercial space industry, and reaffirmed that offering a prize for achieving a specific goal can stimulate entrepreneurial investment that produces a 10 times or greater return on the prize purse and at least 100 times follow‐on investment and social benefit.

For this competition, IBM is sponsoring the AI XPRIZE and giving the $5 Million purse, hence the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE title. And this time around, the XPRIZE contest will focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI) innovation. But while there is a theme, there is no specific prompt. Contestants are being left to choose a challenge (e.g. poverty, health, safety, water, education, etc.) and come up with a solution that includes AI and involves a collaboration between man and machine.

I’m very excited about the competition. It will signify the collaborative power as the best way for us to push AI technology boundaries and effectively address humanity’s grand challenges. In addition, it is a wonderful opportunity for great minds and talents from smaller corners of the world such as Southeast Asia, to equally shine with their AI innovations. — DanChi Nguyen, Correspondent and Outreach Advisor, AI XPRIZE

Why focus on AI?
AI has the ability to shape our lives. Despite AI’s potential to address challenges from climate change, to education, to healthcare, the public view is largely shaped by dystopian myths and science fiction.. The potential for AI’s applicability to all industries is maturing. All industries will be touched by AI and it is important that we have conversations about it. It’s important to figure out how AI can complement and augment human life. It’s time to figure out how to use AI and tackle big challenges, create new technologies, and catalyze new innovations.

What role is IBM Watson playing in it and why?
IBM is one of the big players in AI, they are focusing on cognitive technologies, and so, it makes sense that they have chosen to sponsor the XPRIZE contest this time around.

IBM will provide resources, including Watson technologies, and coaching to our contestants. IBM is also recruiting teams, advisors, and providing the grand prize of $5 Million dollars.

Who should apply?
This contest is open to everyone globally — multidisciplinary or domain focused teams, from academia, to research, groups within corporations, and of course startups.

It’s important to note that this an open competition. Contestants can design their own challenge. That is, contestants are tasked to identify a challenge and a solution for it. Of course, contestants have to have an idea of what technology they will use and identify milestones for their application

What’s the deadline to enter the AI XPRIZE challenge?
The deadline is December 1, 2016.

“XPRIZES are monetary rewards to incentivize three primary goals: 1) Attract investment from outside the sector that takes new approaches to difficult problems. 2) Create significant results that are real and meaningful. Competitions have measurable goals, and are created to promote adoption of the innovation. 3) Cross national and disciplinary boundaries to encourage teams around the world to invest the intellectual and financial capital required to solve difficult challenges.” — Wikipedia

How can we learn more about AI XPRIZE and apply?
You can learn more about XPRIZE and apply here.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
Our goal is to invite the global community to participate in the discussion of AI and develop the greatest innovations of all time. On that note, selected XPRIZE contestants will have access to experts and mentors; contestants teams can merge later on to create better teams.

XPRIZE is actively reaching out to technical and non-technical mentors and advisors, industry experts, and more to help teams and support them.

So, if you have any interest in AI, humans and machines, join in. There are many ways to contribute; everyone’s participation is important and meaningful.

“Cognitive Business” is an interview series featuring prominent figures in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) world. Written by Lolita Taub and written for C-suite and Line-of-Business seeking to address business challenges and goals using the smartest tech.

Originally published at on September 22, 2016.

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