I was tempted to give this news item the headline "$30,000 for a better speell chker" but the problem to be addressed is in fact a more subtle one.
Microsoft Research and Bing are sponsoring a contest called the Speller Challenge. Like other Microsoft competitions they are looking for team entries, primarily from students and researchers, but you don't have to be affiliated to an academic or industrial lab to enter.
The challenge is to create a spell checker that: "generates the most plausible spelling alternatives for a search query". The subtlety, as explained on the Microsoft Research blog, is that: "One person's spelling error could be another's perfect query".
The problem with normal spelling alteration techniques that cope with misspellings through transposed letters, mistyping and common errors is that they "correct" queries for uncommon terms that are entered correctly.
So the task is to come up with a way of presenting search engine results plus useful alternatives and entries have to be submitted in the form of REST-based Web Services. Details of the test datasets being made available for the challenge and the evaluation measures that will be used to judge entries are already available on the Speller Challenge website.
Registration opens on January 17th 2011 with the competition running until May 27th. Winners of five prizes: 1st place $10,000; 2nd place: $8,000; 3rd place: $6,000 4th place: $4,000; 5th place: $2,000 will be announced on June 17th and a workshop will be held in July to present the results.
Imagine Cup 2011