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Last month, we told you about the Google Assistant, Google Duplex. This could potentially change the role of a personal assistant forever. IBM have been busy in a similar vein with Artificial Intelligence. They are looking at the world of debate. Allow us to introduce you to IBM’s Project Debater.

Project Debater is IBM’s efforts to make Artificial Intelligence successfully engage in debates with humans. At an event in IBM’s Watson West site in San Francisco, IBM put Project Debater’s Artificial Intelligence into a real-time debate with a champion debater. The topic for discussion was: “We should subsidize space exploration.”

Amazingly, Project Debater started by preparing arguments for and against the statement. Both the human debater and the AI then “delivered a four-minute opening statement, a four-minute rebuttal, and a two-minute summary.”

Project Debater was able to make arguments using hard facts. It spoke about how space travel benefits humankind in the way that it “can help scientific discoveries and it inspires young people to think beyond themselves.”

The human opponent was Noa Ovadia, national debate champion of Israel in 2016. Government money would be better spent elsewhere – including on scientific research on Earth, argued Noa. After listening to this argument, the AI rebutted with the view that the benefits of space exploration to technology and economy outweighs other government funding.

Project Debater enriched their knowledge more than its human counterpart

According to an IBM press release, those present indicated in snap poll that “a majority of audience members thought Project Debater enriched their knowledge more than its human counterpart.”

It’s incredible to think that a machine was able to debate naturally about a topic. Yes, the internet allows the AI to instantly connect to information online. However, to string arguments together on the fly using natural language is more than impressive.

A second debate then followed with Israeli debate expert, Dan Zafrir. Their debate topic was: “We should increase the use of telemedicine.” There was a curated list of subjects to debate.  Project Debater “was never trained on the topics” according to IBM. “Over time, and in relevant business applications, we will naturally move toward using the system for issues that haven’t been screened.”

AI starting to master language

As we learned from Google Duplex, and with Project Debater, Artificial Intelligence is getting closer to mastering language. IBM has been showing their huge strides in Artificial Intelligence since they took on World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov in 1997 with the “Deep Blue” system.

In 2011, they also demonstrated the IBM Watson project which beat top human champions on Jeopardy in 2011.

Potential to assist with thousands of complicated human decisions

According to IBM, Project Debater has been a challenging task. Over the last 6 years there have been three main areas of research and development. Firstly, they worked on data-driven speechwriting and delivery. Secondly, they focused on listening comprehension – especially when the debating opponent is using long continuous speech. The AI needs to be able to pick up the key arguments made by the other debater. And thirdly, they examined “modelling human dilemmas in a unique knowledge graph to enable principled arguments”.

What is fascinating about this project is the ability of the machine to abide by debate rules. It has to adapt to human rationale and it has to make coherent arguments that debate audiences can understand. It also has to understand it’s opponent and the consistencies and inconsistencies of language, dialects, lingo and more.

IBM says that Project Debater still makes some mistakes, and that work on this project is far from over. However, IBM claims that “it has the potential to assist with thousands of complicated human decisions. For example, by helping to identify financial facts that either support or oppose a financial thesis, or by presenting pro and con arguments related to public policies. “

Project Debater is another fascinating step in the direction of development of artificial intelligence. Clever code powers this. If you think you might be a potential AI builder, why not try our 5 Day Coding Challenge and see if you have an aptitude for the most exciting industry in the world.