People are great at arguing. But a new project from IBM shows that computers are getting quite good at it, too.
On Monday, Harish Natarajan, a grand finalist in 2016's World Debating Championships, is facing off against IBM's Project Debater — a computer touted by the company as the first artificial-intelligence system built to meaningfully debate humans.
Project Debater, which has been in the works since 2012, is designed to come up with coherent, convincing speeches of its own, while taking in the arguments of a human opponent and creating its own rebuttal. It even comes up with its own closing argument. To generate its arguments, Project Debater uses newspaper and magazine articles from its own database. It is not connected to the internet and cannot crib arguments from sites like Wikipedia.
Monday's debate, which was organized by nonprofit debate-hosting company Intelligence Squared US, is being held in front of an audience in San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The topic of the debate — whether or not preschool should be subsidized — wasn't revealed to the AI system or Natarajan until right before they took to the stage. Project Debater will be arguing for the resolution.
It will follow traditional debate style. Each side does a 4-minute opening speech, then they each get a 4-minute rebuttal of the other party. At the end, they do a 2-minute closing talk.
Project Debater shows how AI systems have become increasingly flexible in recent years. The AI we're used to seeing — like digital assistants built into smart speakers — can only be used in very narrow ways, such as answering specific questions. But IBM's system shows how the technology may also be used to explore problems that don't necessarily have a single answer. This might help people find new ways to work with computers, and to use AI to help us come up with more solutions to problems.
"It's really pushing the boundaries [of the] kinds of AI systems that are more interactive with us and can understand us better," IBM Research director Dario Gil told CNN Business on Monday.
This is a developing story...