After Harish Natarajan beats IBM computer, project manager says 'AI meant to help people filter information'

Updated: Feb 14, 2019, 03:08 PM(IST)

Harish Natarajan, 2016’s World Debating Championships grand finalist, at a public debate, 'Think 2019' in San Francisco, faced off against IBM`s Project Debater, which according to the Hardware Company, is the first artificial intelligence system built to meaningfully debate humans.

Harish Natarajan defeats IBM program

International Business Machines (IBM) conceded its artificial intelligence-powered Project Debater lost a competition to a human debate champion Harish Natarajan 2016’s World Debating Championships grand finalist, at a public debate.

(Image credit: IBM)


Harish Natarajan wins contest

Harish Natarajan ended up winning the contest, the event successfully demonstrated that the computer was capable of making increasingly complex arguments.


Artificial intelligence

The Artificial intelligence(AI) project has been in the pipeline since 2012. It is designed to come up with logical, consistent and convincing speeches while taking into consideration the argument presented by its human opponent.

The project can even generate its own arguments and rebuttal, and closing argument by using newspaper and magazine articles from its own database and also taking in the arguments of its human opponent.

Another interesting element of this project is that it cannot copy arguments from sites like Wikipedia.


Debate topic, 'whether to subsidise preschool'

The topic of the debate, whether or not preschool should be subsidised, was not disclosed to the computer or Natarajan until 15 minutes before the debate was scheduled to start. 

Both sides then delivered a four-minute opening statement, a four-minute rebuttal, and a two-minute summary.

The winner of the event was determined by the debater’s ability to convince the audience of the persuasiveness of the arguments.


AI favours

The IBM program debated in favour of subsidised preschool and argued for subsidies, calling it an important tool for helping the poorest members of society.  


Natarajan speaks against subsidy

Natarajan spoke against the idea, saying the subsidy fails to address the root causes of poverty and is a 'politically motivated giveaway' to middle class families.


Natarajan's view

The winner of the event was determined by the debater's ability to change the minds of the audience. Before the debate, 79 per cent of the audience agreed that preschools should be subsidised, while 13 per cent disagreed.

After the debate, 62 per cent of respondents agreed that preschools should be subsidised, while 30 percent disagreed, meaning Natarajan was able to persuade more people to change their minds.

(Image credit: IBM)


New challenge for artificial intelligence

IBM Research director Dario Gil said the experience 'is not about winning or losing' but about creating artificial intelligence 'that can master the infinitely complex and rich world of human langauge.'


'It's not a question of whether AI is going to be better than humans' 

Ranit Aharanov, manger of the Project Debater team, said in a discussion after the debate that the goal is to help humans deal with complex decision. 'It's not a question of whether AI is going to be better than humans,' she said, but to help people filter and find key bits of information in large quantities of text.

'It can debate both sides, so it can very quickly help you understand both sides of the problem, so you have a wider view of the problem and can make a better decision.'


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