Prelims cum Mains Science & Tech

IBM pits computer against human debaters

The News

  • Global tech giant IBM has made a breakthrough in artificial intelligence and language comprehension by launching the world’s first AI system which can engage with humans in a live debate.


Key Highlights

  • IBM pitted Project Debater, a computer against two human debaters in the first public demonstration of artificial intelligence technology it’s been working on for more than five years.
  • An IBM research team based in Israel began working on the project after 2011 success of ‘Jeopardy’.
  • The AI can debate on 100 topics with a four-minute opening statement, a rebuttal and then a two-minute closing statement.
  • Project debater was asked to make a case for government-subsidized space research a topic it hadn’t studied in advance but championed fiercely in reasoning.
  • The computer delivered its opening argument by pulling in evidence from its huge internal repository of newspapers, journals and other sources.
  • It then listened to a professional human debater’s counter-argument and spent four minutes rebutting it.
  • After closing arguments it moved on to a second debate about telemedicine.
  • Project debater was also able to latch onto the most salient and attention-getting elements of an argument.
  • It can even deliver some self-referential jokes about being a computer.
  • However Humans tend to be better at using more expressive language, more original language as they bring in their own personal experience as a way to illustrate the point. The machine doesn’t live in the real world or have a life that it’s able to tap into.
  • Though there are no immediate plans to turn Project Debater into a commercial product, it could be useful in the future in helping lawyers and in decision support systems.


Logic behind Project debater

  • To train a computer to debate a human, IBM three major hurdles had to be overcome.
  • The system had to gather huge amounts of data, text and others, analyse the information, and from that, retrieve relevant and convincing information.
  • Debater must listen to, and comprehend the opponent’s argument to identify concepts and claims and identify weaknesses.
  • Finally, the system must recognise human controversy and dilemma so it could suggest principled arguments.
  • To do all this, IBM developed a methodology and tooling framework that they called Cicero, which improves the algorithms that control natural-language processing.
  • Project debater will one day enhance language-based applications.
  • This is an improvement over present day AI, especially Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa that are not even ready for rudimentary conversations.
  • Besides these digital valets don’t understand basic commands rendering them ineffective as decision support systems.


Branches of AI used by Project Debater

  • Search engine algorithms used to digest and summarize written content and compose new paragraphs similar to Google.
  • Therefore the machine tends to be better than humans at bringing in numbers and other detailed supporting evidence
  • Voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa rely on listening comprehension to answer questions posed by people.
  • IBM created a system that tackles deep human practices of rhetoric and analysis to discuss big questions whose answers aren’t always clear.

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