IBM’s new A.I. took to the stage recently to battle with a champion debater — the artificial intelligence lost the debate but showed just how far A.I. has come in recent years.
The East Bay Times reports that IBM recently rolled out its A.I., Project Debater, to take on champion debater Harish Natarajan at Yerba Buena Cente where as many as 700 spectators came to witness the A.I.’s first ever live debate. The winner of the night was decided by the audience, who used their smartphones to vote in favor of the man or the machine on stage.
The topic of the debate related to whether or not preschools should be subsidized; an area in which audiences stated that Natarajan effectively enriched their knowledge about the topic and ultimately resulted in him beating the A.I. Despite Project Debater’s loss, A.I. scientist Noam Slonim who was the lead investigator on the project was impressed with the A.I.’s performance.
“Its rhetorical skills still were not at the level of Harish,” Slonim said during an interview following the debate. “But it was able to pinpoint relevant points for the debate.” Project Debater drew information from a repository of 300 million articles during the debate, citing studies which showed a positive outcome as a result of preschool subsidization. Aya Soffer, the vice president of A.I. technology for IBM, noted that while this may seem unfair it should be taken into account that the human that the A.I. is debating “has learned all his life.”
Debater began the event by making the audience laugh, acknowledging that Natarajan was a formidable debater but adding: “I suspect you’ve never debated a machine. Welcome to the future.” Natarajan commented on the A.I.’s abilities stating: “What struck me was the potential value for Debater because of the amount of knowledge it can grasp.” Natarajan added that the A.I.’s arguments were “nicely phrased and contextualized,” and that the A.I. could be “quite powerful” when used by humans.
Ranit Aharonov, the manager of Project Debater, stated during the post-debate interview: “We hope the audience walks out of here saying, ‘hey, this can enrich the way we can make decisions in the future.'” Nick McQuire, the vice president of enterprise research at CCS Insight, commented on Debater’s performance saying: “Project Debater is an illustration of how fast the AI discipline is progressing at the moment, especially in the fields of natural language processing and deep learning.”