IBM’s machine argues with humans in a debate.


The machine drew from a library of “hundreds of millions” of documents – mostly newspaper articles and academic journals – to form its responses to a topic it was not prepared for beforehand.

On a stage in San Francisco, IBM’s Project Debater spoke, listened and rebutted a human’s arguments in what was described as a groundbreaking display of artificial intelligence.

While the humans had better delivery, the group agreed, the machine offered greater substance in its arguments.

That, IBM said, spoke to the heart of its goal: augmenting human beings to make decisions quickly and with more data than ever before.

The machine took part in two debates. The first was on whether there should be more publicly funded space exploration. The second was on whether more should be invested in telemedicine technologies.

Each participant had four minutes to make an opening statement, then a four-minute of speaking against, and then a two minute-conclusion.

When Ms Ovadia argued money should be spent on more pressing needs than space travel, the machine offered this reply: “It is very easy to say that there are more important things to spend money on, and I do not dispute this. No one is claiming that this is the only item on our expense list. But that is beside the point.

The machine, like the human, was not given prior knowledge of what the debate topic would be. However, IBM had a list of topics – around 100 or so – it felt would draw a meaningful debate based on the data that was in Project Debater’s memory.

Prof Chris Reed, from the University of Dundee, described the demonstration as an “impressive piece of technology”.

CREDIT: Dave Lee (North America technology reporter)

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