Nokia announced the top three winners of its fifth annual Bell Labs Prize, an international competition for innovators with ideas that will significantly “change the game” in the field of information and communications technologies by a factor of 10.

The winners collectively earned $175,000 in cash prizes and are given the unique opportunity to collaborate with Nokia Bell Labs researchers to help realize their visions.

This year's Bell Labs Prize winners are:

First Place: Samory Kpotufe, currently an assistant professor at Princeton and joining Columbia University next month, won the First Prize and $100,000 for his pioneering work on the critically important field of “transfer learning” in machine learning, which seeks to answer the question of how and when can learning from one machine learning tool be applied to another.

This question lies at the heart of all machine learning — is each model a “one off” or can the learnings be applied to other scenarios and, if so, when? Samory has answered this question with a breakthrough theory that provides a quantitative answer.

Second Place: Aydin Babakhani of UCLA won Second Prize and $50,000 for his work on novel terahertz devices that can produce and receive a broad spectrum of THz radiation at low cost and in a tiny form factor, opening the door to the imaging the world in profoundly new ways.

Third Place: A team comprised of Benjamin Zaidel of Bar-llan University and Shlomo Shamai of Technion Institute of Technology, won Third Prize and $25,000 for their pioneering work on a practically implementable optimal air interface solution for connecting millions of IoT devices over radio network resources. Their approach is extremely close to the theoretical performance limit and cost-optimized.

Selection Process

This year's Bell Labs prize competition attracted more than 250 proposals from around the world. Proposals were reviewed by Nokia Bell Labs researchers and evaluated based on three criteria, including 1) whether the idea has a “10x innovation potential” to change the world; 2) the proposal's technical merit; and 3) the overall feasibility of the proposed idea.

The proposals were narrowed to a select group of outstanding candidates who were given the opportunity to partner with Bell Labs experts to help expand the impact of their proposals. Five finalists were then invited to the final judging event held at the headquarters of Nokia Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey with the judging panel comprised on Nobel Laureates and former Bell Labs Prize winners, as well as Bell Labs alumni.

“The Bell Labs prize is a unique opportunity for innovators to collaborate with Bell Labs researchers to invent the future and solve the critical problems confronting humanity. This year's collection of proposals elevated the competition to new levels, reflecting the ever-increasing role that technology has in improving nearly every facet of our lives. The top three projects were extremely close in the final judging, but Samory is a well-deserved winner of the 2018 Bell Labs Prize as his research in transfer learning takes the much-vaunted field of machine learning and puts it on a much firmer foundation for the future. The team here at Bell Labs looks forward to collaborating with all top three winners to help realize the full potential of their research ideas, in the coming years.” — Marcus Weldon, president of Nokia Bell Labs and CTO of Nokia