XPrize's latest challenge wants AI to better predict COVID-19 transmission rates

The XPrize Pandemic Response Challenge seeks ways to safely reopen societies amidst a pandemic.


The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t only led to the loss of lives, but also to the loss of livelihoods worldwide as businesses close due to necessary lockdowns. It’s had major economic impact across industries, and experts believe the world will continue feeling it for years to come, even after vaccines become available. It’s still unclear when a vaccine will come out, though, and local economies need to reopen soon if they haven’t yet. In an effort to find ways on how to safely reopen societies in the midst of a pandemic, XPrize has teamed up with Cognizant on a new competition with a $500,000 prize purse.

The XPrize Pandemic Response Challenge will have participants build data—driven AI models that can predict local coronavirus transmission rates. Participants will also need to prescribe intervention and mitigation measures and test them using “what-if” scenarios to show that they can minimize infection rates and limit negative impact on the economy. The teams will base their creations on technology and AI models developed by Cognizant, and they’ll use data compiled by the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker.

Amir Banifatemi, Chief Innovation and Growth Officer of XPRIZE, said in a statement:

“This challenge will inspire some of the world’s brightest innovators to address the immediate threats to our economies and our livelihoods. Through global collaboration, the output of this challenge could be a game changer when it comes to using data and AI to create a route to recovery via a range of economic scenarios created by the competing teams. With vaccines on the horizon, these predictive and prescriptive models for opening society will continue to be valuable for the foreseeable future.”

Unlike other XPrize competitions that took years to conclude, the Pandemic Response Challenge will only last for four months ending in February 2021. For Phase 1, which will conclude on December 22nd, teams will focus on providing accurate transmission predictions, as well as coming up with unique intervention strategies and mitigation policies and practices. The top 50 teams that will move on to second and last phase of the competition.

The organization chose to adopt a shortened timeline in an effort to help “end the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating effects” as quickly as possible. Thus far, 102 teams from 23 countries have already registered to participate. Back in July, the XPrize organization also launched a $5 million competition to make COVID-19 testing faster, cheaper and easier.

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