It does not matter whether you want to revolutionize healthcare or space research, or to build a smarter AI than what Siri could be or a better composer than Magenta, the floor is yours in every area. Teams have the chance to define their own goals and own challenge, and have the battle of wits for four years with annual milestone competitions in 2017, 2018 and 2019. In the final round, the top three finalists will compete for the Grand Prize at TED 2020.

I asked Amir Banifatemo, XPRIZE lead for the IBM Watson AI competition about the monumental project and what he thinks about artificial intelligence.

What could we practically expect to see at TED2020? Will an AI algorithm give a talk and even show slides? How can we imagine this?

At TED 2020, the top three finalists will compete for the Grand Prize. We are looking at showcasing breakthroughs in the field of AI and hope to see outstanding combinations of AI and human collaboration.

BM Watson AI XPRIZE Competition
(L-R) Chris Anderson and Peter Diamandis announce AI XPrize challenge at TED2014 – The Next Chapter, Session 9 – Signals, March 17-21, 2014, Vancouver Convention Center, Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash

Thought leaders from Elon Musk to Stephen Hawking warned about the dangers of AI. How could such a competition contribute to the fears or the potential advantages of AI? Do you think you need to address this in your communication?

AI is a powerful technology. It is going to be a foundational tool to be used by many of us and part of the skills future generations will use and must prioritize and cultivate. Like all powerful tools they are neutral until a human uses them. They should be developed carefully and responsibly, but ultimately, we think there is great opportunity to show how we can responsibly build technologies that can benefit humanity.

What effect could this competition have on AI projects focused on healthcare such as IBM Watson or Google DeepMind?

AI can have a phenomenal impact on healthcare by allowing for a better understanding of the health context and learning from data sets.

How will all the separate AI projects come together? There is no collaboration today between DeepMind or Watson. What happens when one gains self-awareness, should they be combined?

This competition may be an opportunity for teams that are focusing on solving grand challenges to use combinations of various technologies and advancement in AI and come together to propose novel hybrid solutions.

BM Watson AI XPRIZE Competition

What are the best opportunities for AI in healthcare currently?

AI is certainly going to impact healthcare, and we expect the first opportunities to stem from using AI to find patterns in medical data, helping doctors diagnose diseases, and suggest treatments to improve patient care. We are looking to be amazed by the new applications that will come during this prize in the field of AI applied to healthcare.

Do you think the regulatory environment is a huge obstacle to overcome?

We believe the regulatory environment would need to identify a roadmap for allowing the development of AI in a safe, controlled and secure way, accessible to all. Maybe one of the obstacles to overcome is the definition of AI and what we should be focusing on, leading then to regulation. The role of this prize is to allow conversations around adequate understanding of AI in narrow or broad terms, and we believe large participation of teams and applications in various industries will help bring a better understanding of the environment in which AI can evolve.

Free guide and infographic: 40 trends of the future of medicine

I certainly think that such a competition can facilitate the enhancement of AI and it can also help to spread it in everyday healthcare. There are already promising signs for artificial intelligence in medicine. Just take a look at IBM Watson or Google’s AlphaGo (which was able to beat 18 time World Champion Lee Sedol in the complicated game of Go). However, I completely agree with the notion that the process of developing AI should be analysed and regulated in order to avoid such a dystopic future as it was depicted in the movies Ex Machina, Her or the upcoming HBO show, Westworld.