IBM’s AI loses debate to human but has strong showing

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s no debating this one: In man vs. machine on Monday night, the human was triumphant.

IBM’s Project Debater — manifested onstage by a black monolith with a female voice — battled champion debater Harish Natarajan in a theater packed with about 700 spectators at Yerba Buena Center. It was the artificial intelligence technology’s first live debate in public.

While the audience voted by smartphone to give the human the victory, Debater managed to impress. It beat Natarajan in better enriching the audience’s knowledge about the topic as it argued that preschool should be subsidized.

The lead investigator for Project Debater, AI scientist Noam Slonim, seemed pleased with how well IBM’s technology performed.

“Its rhetorical skills still were not at the level of Harish,” Slonim said during an onstage interview after the debate. “But it was able to pinpoint relevant points for the debate.”

In its arguments, Project Debater cited studies showing positive outcomes because of preschool education from the vast amounts of material it ingested beforehand. It drew from a repository of 300 million articles, meaning it had to read about 10 billion sentences.

If that sounds unfair, consider that the human it debated “has learned all his life,” said Aya Soffer, vice president of AI technology for IBM, in an interview before the event.

Like its human counterpart, Debater had just 15 minutes to prepare after it was given the topic chosen by IBM. It was not connected to the internet, and based its arguments on its own knowledge and the arguments it heard from Natarajan.

Debater also managed to make the audience laugh. To start off the event, it acknowledged that its opponent, who was grand finalist at the 2016 World Debating Championships, was a formidable debater.

However, it said, “I suspect you’ve never debated a machine. Welcome to the future.”

Natarajan — …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Business


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