XPrize’s $5 million AI competition is down to 59 teams

A year after launching, the IBM Watson-sponsored AI XPrize has been whittled down to 59 teams. That number’s down from 147 in May, which, in turn, was pulled from a list of 10,000 signups. The goal was to halve the number this time out, but a handful of teams have fallen out of the running of their own volition.

The four-year competition is the first “open” one from the XPrize Foundation, meaning there’s really no specific end-point here. Instead, each team was asked to solve a problem using artificial intelligence, be it Watson or another system. In fact, only 20 percent of the teams are using or considering using IBM’s AI for the their project, according to the foundation.

All of that’s made it a fairly tough competition to judge, along with the fact that the subject matter runs the gamut of, well, just about everything, including Health and Wellness, Learning and Human Potential, Civil Society, Space and New Frontiers, Shelter and Infrastructure Energy and Resources.

Further complicating things is the fact that the four-year competition also includes potential wild card candidates, who are able to enter the competition late. That’s a first for XPrize and a result of the organization’s attempts to inject some new blood into a rapidly changing AI landscape.

“AI is moving at such a fast pace, and a number of breakthroughs will develop to allow teams to address problems that may not have been addressed the year before,” competition leader Amir Banifatemi told TechCrunch. “We want the competition to remain fresh and agile, in terms of teams to still participate if they think they can still solve the problem.”

Even so, the team of 30 judges have managed to winnow the team number down to 59, spread out over 14 countries. The teams are judged on their technology, human and machine collaboration and the perceived impact of the problem they’ve chosen to solve.

The list also includes a “top 10,” who will be showcasing their projects at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference in Long Beach this week. Two teams will be chosen from that top 10 and awarded a prize stipend — though beyond that, they don’t really get much advantage over the other teams still in the competition.

The top 10 includes eight teams from North America and two from Europe. Those projects range from wearables designed to tackle the opioid crisis to virtual tutors. The full prize purse, provided by IBM (which plays no role in the actual judging), is $5 million. The grand prize winner gets $3 million, second prize gets $1 million and third prize gets $500,000, with additional $500,000 milestone prizes being awarded in 2018 and 2019.