Human beats IBM’s AI-powered debate computer

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IBM’s argumentative AI-powered computer has faced off in a debate against a human professional and lost.

Computers typically have a vast amount of information at their disposal but IBM’s was unable to persuade a live audience of its viewpoint.

IBM’s debating computer was tasked with taking on Harish Natarajan, a grand finalist in 2016’s World Debating Championships.

The live debate was broadcasted live on Monday and held in San Francisco’s famous Yerba Buena Center. It was organised by a non-profit firm called Intelligence Squared US which specialise in hosting debates.

IBM’s system, known as ‘Project Debater’, has been in development since 2012. Project Debater uses newspaper and magazine articles to formulate its points rather than online sources like Wikipedia, which could explain why Natarajan got the better of it.

Debating AIs could provide various benefits. Politicians, for example, could use them for training ahead of live debates against opponents. They could also help with general decisions to determine whether an idea is flawed.

Monday’s debate focused on the question of whether preschool should be subsidised. Both the human and AI participant were not alerted to the subject until 15 minutes before.

The AI was on the side of subsidising preschool. It came up with strong arguments such as how subsidisation helps to break the poverty cycle. During the debate, it highlighted and drew information from various studies.

Natarajan argued that subsidies would not ensure that all children would be able to attend, while also highlighting that it consumes resources that could be used for other things.

Both sides gave a two-minute closing argument. While awaiting the final verdict, Natarajan noted how combining Project Debater’s skills with a human “could be incredibly powerful.”

Prior to the debate, the audience was asked how they felt about the issue. 79 percent said preschool should be subsidised, while 13 percent disagreed.

The winner is decided by which side gained the most points.

Following the debate, 62 percent of the crowd agreed and 30 percent disagreed. By converting 17 percent of the crowd, Natarajan was crowned the winner.

You can watch the full debate here.

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