IBM AI Machine Draws In Debate With Humans

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL”. IBM AI machine holds its own in public debate with human

An artificial intelligence (AI) machine from IBM has held its own in a public debate with human beings in a demonstration in San Francisco.

The machine, IBM’s Project Debater, apparently spoke, listened and rebutted a human’s arguments in what is being considered a groundbreaking display of artificial intelligence.

It comes after Google Deepmind last year demonstrated that its AI system became even smarter without any human input at all, after it learnt how to defeat the leading system playing the ancient Chinese game of Go all by itself.

AI debate

The debate with IBM’s Project Debater however did not involve a board game.

According to the Verge, IBM hosted two debate club-style discussions between two humans and its “Project Debater.” The idea was for the AI to engage in a series of reasoned arguments according to standard rules of debate.

This meant the AI system had no awareness of the debate topic ahead of time, and there was no pre-programmed responses. Instead the machine had to drawn upon a library of documents – mostly newspaper articles and academic journals – to form its responses.

Each side gave a four-minute introductory speech, a four-minute rebuttal to the other’s arguments, and a two-minute closing statement.

Project Debater held its own according to the attendees to the debate, who voted on who did best.

The audience felt that while humans had the better delivery, the machine offered greater substance in its arguments.

Indeed, Project Debater reportedly cited sources, played to the audience’s affinity for children and veterans, and did a passable job of cracking a relevant joke or two in the process.

The demonstration will display to the world the strides that AI has taken.

AI credentials

IBM has long been a heavy backer of AI technology. In 2011 this was first revealed to the world when IBM Watson defeated humans in the first Jeopardy match.

But AI is also causing some concern from the likes of Elon Musk, Bill Gates and the late Dr Stephen Hawking, all of whom are worried that AI could signal the end of humanity.

Indeed, it is true to say that the subject of AI is a divisive one, with some worrying AI is likely to steal jobs from humans rather than necessarily destroy them.

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