In what is being described as a pathbreaking evidence of the role the artificial intelligence can play, a IBM’s Project Debater spoke, listened and rebutted a human’s arguments in a recent event in San Francisco, US.
The computer was given a topic that was not previously prepared for the computer but the machine created its arguments from a library of “hundreds of millions” of documents – comprising mostly newspaper articles and academic journals.
There was the occasional slip up, even though the audience clearly liked the machine’s arguments.
Greater substance in its arguments were presented by the machine, agreed the audience even though they though that humans presented the better delivery.
According to the IBM, the purpose of the machine was fulfilled – augmenting humans in making decisions faster and helped by more data than ever before.
“I think it says actually very optimistic things about how humans respond to facts and figures,” said Noa Ovadia, one of the human debaters at the event later told the media.
“I think they are important, but they’re not everything when we make up our argumentation.”
Ms Ovadia started working with IBM as a human to the machine. She was earlier the national debating champion of Israel in 2016.
“I think eventually when it can do what we do but better, that’ll be great thing for the human race – for informed decision-making, for informed voting, for informed everything”, she told the BBC.
IBM’s researchers had carefully chosen data sources which was harnessed by the Project Debater and it did not harness any information from the internet as it was not hooked up to it.
No prior knowledge of the debate topic was given to the machines like the human debaters. However, a list of about 100 topics that the researchers felt could be debated upon from the data base that they had created for the machine, were present with the IBM.
“Over time, and in relevant business applications, we will naturally move toward using the system for issues that haven’t been screened,” said Arvind Krishna, IBM’s director of research, in a blog post.
This innovative experiment touches the limits of AI in a manner that is yet far for companies like Google to reach with its game-playing AI., Krishna said in an interview.
“Project Debater is about mastering language, and language is nuanced,” he said. “In this case also, there is no particular right or wrong.”
The demonstration was described as an “impressive piece of technology” by Prof Chris Reed, from the University of Dundee.
“This is really quite a significant step forward,” said the academic, who is not affiliated with IBM.
“I think what impressed me was the combination of AI techniques. Tackling something like debating is not a one-shot deal.
“You need to be able to solve many problems and then bring all those problems together in an engineered solution.”
There are some clear commercial values for advanced decision-making according to IBM’s Krishna.
“When in business you have to make a decision, sometimes on the seat of your pants, sometimes from the biases of those who give advice,” he said.
“If you can lead Project Debater to come up with its pros and cons on a topic, you can look at both equally and that can mean a much more useful decision.”
Prof Reed agreed for the most part.
“I think this is very much about building teams… where you’ve got some human parties taking part in the debate and some computational
“Obviously they’ve got different strengths and weaknesses, and the idea is to architect these teams in such a way that they can work better than just humans on their own.”
(Adapted from BBC.com)