In Brief

Project Debater: IBM builds robot that argues with humans

Public debate between AI and humans ends in draw

IBM has created the first artificial intelligence (AI) system capable of holding its own in arguments with human beings. 

The robot, called Project Debater, was unveiled yesterday at the tech giant’s San Francisco office, where it took part in couple of short debates against two human opponents - Noa Ovadia, the 2016 Israeli debate champion, and in a second debate, Dan Zafrir, a nationally renowned debater in Israel. 

For each debate, the robot and its rival had to prepare a four-minute opening statement, followed by a four-minute “rebuttal” and a two-minute closing summary, The Guardian reports.

The topic for the opening debate was the statement that “we should subsidise space exploration”, followed by “we should increase the use of telemedicine”.

According to the BBC, the robot analysed “hundreds of millions” of newspaper and journal articles to come up with its argument to the topics, which it had not been prepared for beforehand.

Project Debater’s performance is being hailed as a “groundbreaking” display of AI, as the robot successfully “spoke, listened and rebutted” human arguments, the broadcaster adds. 

However, the robot’s public debut wasn’t without a few hiccups. 

“Some of the points it made were pretty facile” and others were “clearly cribbed from articles”, says The Verge.

Still, the robot’s ability to engage with complex topics in near real-time, bar a few minutes to analyse its rivals’ arguments, is “pretty impressive”, the tech news site admits. 

Some critics are more concerned about how the technology could be used in the wrong hands. 

MIT Technology Review’s Will Knight argues that the AI system could be used to power “more pernicious bots on social media and beyond”.

That claim was disputed by Noam Slonim, who helped develop the debating bot. Slonim argues that other technologies pose a far greater threat than the AI system used in Project Debater.

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