Can AI beat a human in a debate?

IBM's Project Debater loses to human champ

IBM's Project Debater loses to human champ

"I have heard you hold the world record in debate competition wins against humans, but I suspect you have never debated a machine".

Artificial intelligence machines have beat the world's greatest Go, Chess, Jeopardy, and StarCraft II (usually) players, but they're still not quite on the same level as one of the world's top debaters-Harish Natarajan, a grand finalist in 2016's World Debating Championships and the 2012 European Debate victor.

And while the result was close, the human managed to pip the machine in this instance.

So, let's have an argument over AI.

In 1996, IBM created a computer system that beat a chess grandmaster for the first time.

Aharonov says: "The vision around Project Debater is how do we develop the technology". A panel of four data scientists oversaw its operation. Natarajan added that the A.I.'s arguments were "nicely phrased and contextualized", and that the A.I. could be "quite powerful" when used by humans. The competition took place in front of 700 people, including debaters at the Yerba Buena Center, who were asked to vote for either side before and after the debate. He saw a 17 percent uplift in measures taken pre- and post-debate. Though 60 per cent of the audience stated that Project Debater enriched their knowledge, they were also swayed by Natarajan's line of argument. The tall black box with a female voice then scrutinised a database of hundreds of millions of newspaper and magazine articles before writing and presenting an argument based on her findings - all within 15 minutes.

"It needs to pinpoint these little pieces of text that are relevant to the topic, that are argumentative in nature, that hopefully support our side of the debate, and then somehow glue them together into a meaningful argument, which is very hard for a machine to do".

"Another part of the system uses a unique production of more principled arguments that are relevant to the topic". Since then, IBM had been trying to improve Debater's rebuttal capabilities.

"If you think about grand challenges in the past around AI, these were often cases where there was a factual question and a clear victor [and right and wrong answer]", she said.

"When you think of a debate, this is something where the victor is not clear".

"It's really pushing the boundaries [of the] kinds of AI systems that are more interactive with us and can understand us better", IBM Research director Dario Gil said Monday on CNN's First Move. For centuries, this formalized back-and-forth of words and arguments has helped us explore the pros and cons of ideas to make more informed decisions.

That's IBM's hope for the future of the technology.

It isn't clear when IBM might be able to commercialise elements of Project Debater for use in enterprise environments. Check out a replay of the debate below, and thanks to Jon855 for the tip.

While the debating system, Miss Debater argued that subsidizing preschools isn't just a matter of finance, but a moral and political duty to protect some of society's most vulnerable children, Natarajan countered that, too often, subsidies function as politically motivated giveaways to the middle class.

These may be slightly complicated supporting points, given both lacked some context in the way they were delivered.

Going into the debate, Natarajan believed he would have an advantage.

Ry Crozier is attending IBM Think 2019 in San Francisco as a guest of IBM.