Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Armonk, NY, United States (4E) – IBM has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) computer that can reason and debate with human beings. This thing called “Project Debater” debated humans for the first time last week and the results weren’t good — for humans.
The machine named Debater won one of two debates, which were judged by humans, and this signal achievement is cause for concern. It’s a huge step on the AI’s road towards independent thought, and eventually, consciousness.
IBM computer scientists slaved for six years to develop the AI that can read millions of documents, listens and comprehends — and then forms arguments based on data. Debater can even crack corny jokes. It’s part of IBM’s (misguided) attempt to create computers that master human speech.
IBM said what mattered most is that this is the first AI system that demonstrates the ability to argue. It said the technology represents a breakthrough in equipping computers with the ability to “truly understand language” and then be “expressive.”
The debate saw two experienced debaters, Noa Ovadia and Dan Zafrir, face-off against Debater. Each competitor opened with a four-minute speech. They then received another four minutes to rebut, and were given two minutes to make a closing argument.
Some of the highlights included Debater’s ability to listen to an opponent’s argument and then attempt to undermine it, much as a human would. Sometimes, Debater guessed at what the opponents were saying, and launched a pre-emptive attack against it.
Some of the glitches saw Debater use barely relevant data to make a point. In the debate over the use of telemedicine, Debater cited a Supreme Court ruling in Iowa that was clearly inappropriate.
“We’re not super obsessed about who wins and loses,” said Dario Gil, vice president of Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing at IBM Research. “We’re more interested in seeing AI deal with the human ambiguity, reality, and context. We want to see if it can write well, be persuasive, and give good evidence.”
To train a computer to debate, IBM said three major hurdles had to be overcome. The system had to gather huge amounts of text, analyze the information, and retrieve relevant and convincing information. Debater must also listen to and comprehend the opponent’s argument to identify concepts and claims and identify weaknesses. Finally, Debater must recognize human controversy and dilemma so it can “suggest principled arguments.”
To do all this, IBM’s team of scientists led by Dr. Noam Slonim and Dr. Ranit Aharonov, developed “a methodology and tooling framework” they called Cicero, which improves the algorithms that control natural-language processing.
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