A Human Just Triumphed Over IBM’s 6-Year-Old AI Debater

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But it came close.

The tech giant six-year-old artificial intelligence debating system, affectionately dubbed”Miss Debater,” went head-to-head Monday with among the world’s most decorated professionals. After a 25-minute rapid-fire market about pre-school subsidies – during the female-voiced AI revealed flashes of very homo sapien humour – the audience handed the victory to Harish Natarajan, 31.

The unorthodox contest marked the most recent highly marketed man-vs. -machine challenge. Back in 1996, IBMproduced a computer program that defeat a chess grandmaster for the very first time. In 2011, its Watson supercomputer defeated two record-winning “Jeopardy!” contestants. And Alphabet’s AlphaGofamously proved AI may master the intricate game of Go.

IBM’s machine – recognized formally as Project Debater – kicked off Monday’s match-up with a cheeky greeting. “I’ve heard you have the world record in debate competition wins against humans, but I guess you have never debated a system. Welcome to the future.”

The event unfolded in front of tens of thousands of journalists, technology business insiders and software engineers at IBM’s Think conference in downtown San Francisco. The subject: ” We should subsidize preschools. Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty was one of the audiences, who voted Natarajan the victor but also explained her company’s machine better improved their knowledge.

The two contestants were given the subject at precisely the same period and needed 15 minutes to pare down discussions into a four-minute address, four-minute rebuttal and two-minute summary. Standing at human height, Project Debater’s menacing black box remained quiet except for three rotating blue circles as it mulled over 10 billion sentences from news articles and scientific journals. Facing her onstage, Natarajan scrawled notes on scrap paper.

While the AI dropped, the event was a culmination of types for the job’s progenitor, Noam Slonim. He understood they were the underdogs: Natarajan holds the world record for most debate competition victories and has attended three championships, winning the European tournament in 2012.

“It’s like you are sitting in the audience with your kid on stage competing against a world-class pianist and everyone is watching,” he explained. Unlike chess or Jeopardy, debating involves connecting with people and convincing them of an outlook. Delivery is key and”that is human territory.”

Project Debater used study and quotes from politicians to support her argument that subsidizing preschools isn’t just a matter of finance, but a political and ethical obligation to protect some of society’s most vulnerable kids. Natarajan cautioned that, too frequently, subsidies be politically motivated giveaways into the middle class.

The biggest advantage any person retains over Project Debater is the capability to deliver language with emotion, wielding tone, inflection, pitch and pauses to sway an audience. A week ago in London, Natarajan predicted that he would have the edge. “I envision at this stage a human would still find it easier to build logical arguments than a machine would in a way that’s reasonably convincing to an individual audience,” he explained at the moment.

However, the track record of people vanquished by AI played on Natarajan’s mind in the lead-up to the debate. He’d watched”AlphaGO,” a documentary about the contest between AI and the planet’s top Go participant, who had been overconfident and ended up losing four games to one. Natarajan realized”the hubris with which humans sometimes take playing with a machine.”

Slonim hatched the concept of Job Debater at 2011 while Watson’s victory in Jeopardy nevertheless succeeds. The following year, he led a research group in Israel that began studying how people learn the art of disagreement, and constructed a system to mirror that process. Their machine scans over 300 million newspaper articles and scientific journals to identify relevant arguments on any given topic. It then has to ascertain that facts and opinions are against or for, construct a speech and deliver it in a clear and cohesive way. What’s more, the AI then has to understand her opponent’s debate and craft a rebuttal.

Project Debater moves closer to realizing the dream of AI leader and British mathematician Alan Turing. In 1950, the creator of modern computing raised the question of whether or not machines might think for themselves. He called one day we’d hold a conversation with a computer and not have the ability to distinguish the difference between human and machine.

Miss Debater still needs some work. Longer-term, Slonim and his fellow investigators, Ranit Aharonov and Talia Gershon, are exploring whether AI will help enlarge the human mind. For instance, Project Debater may one day assist attorneys pore through thousands of court cases to form closing arguments, or help kids develop critical thinking skills.

“Think about it for a moment. We don’t often see a machine with an intelligent discussion with a human for 25 minutes,” Slonim said.


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