AI Initiative
The Ethics + Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative

AI and the News: Challenge FAQs

AI and the News Open Challenge: Frequently Asked Questions


What is the AI and News Open Challenge?

Artificial intelligence — and its subfield of machine learning — is reshaping the landscape of news and information. From the algorithms filtering what you see on social media, to the use of machine learning to generate news stories and online content, AI has and will continue to play a major role in shaping what and how information is distributed and consumed.

As researchers and companies continue to advance the technical state of the art, we believe that it is necessary to ensure that AI serves the public good. This means not only working to address the problems presented by existing AI systems, but articulating what realistic, better alternatives might look like.

This challenge is an open call for ideas which will award up to $750,000 to a range of projects. We’re seeking fresh and experimental approaches to four specific problems at the intersection of AI and the news, which you can read more about on our challenge brief. You can submit applications on Submittable


How do I apply?

The AI and News Open Challenge is open from Sept. 12, 2018, at 9 a.m. ET until Oct. 12, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. During this time, you can visit aiethicsinitiative.org/challenge, click “Submit” and complete the application.

While the submission phase is open, you can save your application as a draft and revisit it any time. Once completed, you can submit your application by clicking the “Submit” button. Please be sure to do so before the challenge closes at 11:59 p.m. ET on Oct. 12, 2018.


Is my application private?

Yes. Your application will not be viewable to the public and will only be reviewed by staff at the Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative, Knight Foundation and a select group of advisers and readers who will assist in determining the challenge winners.


May I edit my submission?

Yes. You may edit your submission with any updates, changes based on feedback or basic corrections throughout the submission phase. Once the review phase begins, applications will be closed for editing. Please make any changes as soon as possible.


May I apply from outside the United States?

Yes. The AI and News Open Challenge is open to applicants from anywhere in the world. However, the application must be completed in English.


What questions are on the application?

We ask a few questions to get a sense of your project, how you're approaching it, and the team behind it. During the first stage, you do not need to provide a detailed budget or complete a request for a specific amount of funding. We'll ask budget questions in the next stage for those entries selected as semifinalists.


Have any tips for good applications?

We will review and evaluate initial applications on the strength of your idea, its potential to make progress on the problems outlined in our challenge brief, replicability, freshness of the approach being proposed and your ability to execute the project.

Please note that these applications will be reviewed by experts across many fields. Do your best to make sure that a stranger with little to no knowledge of your field could understand the first few sentences of your application. Be brief. Ask people who don’t know your project to review your application. Make sure it fits the theme. The simpler the better.


I have an idea that does not fit into the four categories in the challenge brief. Can I still apply?

Applications must be responsive to the four specific issue areas that we have laid out in the challenge brief in order to be considered.  


If selected as a semifinalist, what additional information will I need to supply?

We will notify you if you are a semifinalist by mid-November and ask you to provide a detailed budget form outlining what your projected expenses will be and how much the project will cost. We will also ask additional questions that help us get a better understanding of the project and how you plan to execute on it.


I have an early-stage idea. May I still apply?

Yes. The challenge focuses on early-stage ideas and experimental approaches to some tough problems. We’re hoping to prove out a set of new ideas, tools and approaches that can work to address the concerns that we outline in our challenge brief.


Who decides who wins?

The Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative will determine the winners of the challenge. During the review process, we read applications with the help of a group of outside advisers and field experts as well as representatives from the Knight Foundation.


How much money is available?

Winners will receive a share of $750,000 for early-stage projects that address one of the four problem areas outlined in our challenge brief. We anticipate that winning ideas will be awarded anywhere from $75,000 to $200,000 to test, refine and build out a project.


What parts of my budget will you fund?

We’ll pay for what it takes to design, develop and implement the project, as well as marketing and travel. We don’t fund universities’ overhead costs or administrative fees.


When will I know if I will receive funding?

We plan to let the winners of the challenge know that they have been awarded a grant by early February, with a public announcement coming in mid-March 2019.


Who are the funders for this challenge?

The Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative is supported by Knight Foundation,  Omidyar Network, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The anchor institutions leading the Initiative are the MIT Media Lab and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.


What does the Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative do?

Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative is a hybrid research effort and philanthropic fund that seeks to ensure that technologies of automation and machine learning are researched, developed, and deployed in a way that vindicate social values of fairness, human autonomy and justice.


Who may enter the AI and News Open Challenge?

Anyone, anywhere, of any age. The challenge is open to journalists, designers, technologists, engineers, activists, entrepreneurs, artists, lawyers — anyone who thinks they have a good idea about addressing these problems that may not have been tried before, anywhere in the world. Awards to minors will be made to an intermediary designated by the Miami Foundation.


What kind of projects are ineligible for funding?

As required by IRS rules, the AI Initiative’s funds cannot be used for:

  • Engaging in direct lobbying activities (i.e., contacting legislators regarding specific legislation).

  • Engaging in grassroots lobbying activities (i.e., encouraging the public to contact legislators regarding specific legislation).

  • Participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elective public office.

  • Supporting a voter registration drive (unless the grantee is a Section 4945(f) organization).

  • Benefiting a private party (other than through providing grant funds to conduct activities in furtherance of charitable and educational purposes).


What are the funding options for a nonprofit organization?

We offer charitable grants to registered U.S. nonprofit organizations with 501(c)(3) status.


I’m a for-profit company. May I enter?

Yes. There are several funding options. Don’t worry too much about those specifics before applying. If you’re selected to move forward as a semifinalist or finalist, we’ll communicate with you about the details.


May I apply with a project that I have already started?

Yes, if you’re proposing to do new, innovative things within the existing project


Can two organizations or people submit a collaborative project?

Yes. We have funding mechanisms to make partnership projects possible.


How many different projects may I submit to the AI and News Open Challenge?

As many as you like.


I’m not a software developer or designer, but I have a good idea that requires technology. May I apply?

Yes, absolutely. But you should keep in mind that we’ve found that the most successful technology projects are those with technology expertise on the team from the early stages.


What are the intellectual property terms of the AI and News Open Challenge?

If you win, you’ll own your intellectual property. But under most funding mechanisms, you’ll be required to release what you make as open source (for software) or Creative Commons (for content and documentation).

Legalese detail: Grants to nonprofits have a strict requirement: any software developed with grant money must be released as open source (typically under GNU General Public License 3). The same is true for grants to for-profit companies. The business receiving a grant agrees to bind itself to the open source license it owns as if it were a licensee.


What is your definition of releasing as “open source”?

Software that is available for anyone to use or build upon at the conclusion of the grant period. You will own your platform, but you will have to share the software you develop under a GNU General Public License (GPL) (or other open source license, by agreement with us) and any content, documents, manuals or instructions under Creative Commons licensing.


What is the AI Initiative’s intellectual property licensing policy?

The AI Initiative’s intellectual property (IP) licensing policy seeks to use IP terms and conditions in its agreements that allow projects to achieve their highest possible impact. This licensing policy also aims to increase the transparency of grant outcomes by allowing for greater sharing of knowledge and adoption among user communities.

The specific type of license required by the AI Initiative depends on the type of IP being created, the type of organization receiving the support and the specific objectives of the project. But, in general, non-charitable organizations (for-profits or individuals) receiving a grant must use the most permissible IP licenses. In addition to licensing the IP, non-charitable organizations will also be licensees themselves and so subject to the terms of the license for any future versions of the IP.


I want to tell you about something that’s broken.

Thanks! Please email challenge@aiethicsinitiative.org to inform us of any issues you encounter.


My question is not listed above.

Please submit questions to challenge@aiethicsinitiative.org.


How can I learn more and stay updated?

To stay updated, you can follow articles on https://aiethicsinitiative.org/news/.

We also have an e-mail list you can subscribe to for challenge-specific updates here.