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IBM’s AI machine loses debate against a human

14 February 2019

But a project from IBM shows that computers are getting quite good at it, too.

IBM's Project Debater, an argumentative AI-powered computer, lost a debate against Harish Natarajan, a grand finalist in 2016's World Debating Championships.

She was then able to absorb Natarajan's argument to formulate her own rebuttal.

The IBM Debater system was trained on 10 billion sentences in hundreds of millions of articles from various prominent newspapers and magazines. Another interesting element of this project is that it can not copy arguments from sites like Wikipedia.

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At Intelligence Squared U.S., we've debated AI before - the risks, the rewards, and whether it can change the world - but for the first time, we're debating with AI.

"The topic of the debate related to whether or not preschools should be subsidized; an area in which audiences stated that Natarajan effectively enriched their knowledge about the topic and ultimately resulted in him beating the A.I. Despite Project Debater's loss, A.I. scientist Noam Slonim who was the lead investigator on the project was impressed with the A.I.'s performance". Each side gave a 4-minute opening speech, then they each came up with a 4-minute rebuttal to the other party. One, AI machines can engage humans in a debate on complex topics. It presents these in what's described as a mostly monotonous, female voice.

The topic of the debate was whether or not preschool should be subsidized.

Natarajan argued that subsidies can consume important resources that could be used otherwise, and do not actually guarantee that the desired outcome is achieved - namely, that all children would be able to attend preschool.

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"There will still be individuals who will be priced out because of the realities of the market", he said.

IBM made history on Tuesday evening hosting the first ever public debate between man and machine. It saved its best counter arguments for its closing statement. While out of order, the elements of a proper debate all seemed present. Natarajan commented on the A.I.'s abilities stating: "What struck me was the potential value for Debater because of the amount of knowledge it can grasp". Combining its skills with those of a human, he said, "could be incredibly powerful". By the end, 62 percent of the crowd agreed and 30 percent disagreed.

Natarajan took the victory based on the percentage of people whose opinions were altered by his arguments.

Project Debater shows how AI systems have become increasingly flexible in recent years.

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According to the IMB, this technology can help in exploring problems that don't necessarily have a single answer.

IBM’s AI machine loses debate against a human