Alibaba pits people against AI in its annual mathematics competition

Thankfully the prizes for human winners are far higher than those for machines

Alibaba has added a twist to its annual Global Math Competition by opening a separate challenge to AI.

The annual competition is conducted in two rounds – the first focused on "enjoying the beauty of mathematics" and finals that "emphasize the cutting edge of academic research." In 2023 over 50,000 competed in the open-book qualifier, leaving 685 to fight it out in an eight-hour battle for the first prize of $40,000.

Alibaba's DAMO Academy research institute hosts the event.

This year the challenge has added a category for AIs, whether built by individual developers, universities, research institutions or even corporations.

This means that large companies could appear as winners beside the usually scrappy set of math nerds (Rest assured The Reg uses the term "nerds" with affection.)

The DAMO Academy itself has released its own large language models, in addition to serving cloud, semiconductor, robotics and other high-tech research, as well as once-upon-a-time operating a quantum lab.

Prizes for the three top scoring AI models in this year's contest are $10,000, $5000 and $2000.

Human mathematicians in the top three positions are eligible for around three times as much: $30,000, $15,000 and $8,000. Outstanding human contestants who do not place in the top three can still win a bonus $2000.

Registration for the event opened on Thursday.

The directions for the AI challenge indicate that participants can start training models or designing prompts after completing registration and must submit those models or prompts to the organizing committee before April 12. Once the exam starts, AI contestants must use AI to answer questions within 48 hours and submit human-readable answers into the exam system.

The math competition has been ongoing since 2017 – until now only for human contestants.

The oldest participant yet was 80, the youngest a tenth of that age, and last year the competition crowned its youngest ever winner: a 17 year old.

According to the DAMO Academy, the contest "integrates competition, training, and exchanges, and aims to lead and open attention on a global scale."

Last year, Alibaba founder Jack Ma used the event to reemerge after spending a year out of the public eye. Ma had only appeared one other time previously – at the opening of a school – since he had made comments critical of the Chinese Communist Party. ®

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