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But it came close.

The tech giant’s six-year-old artificial intelligence debating system, affectionately dubbed”Miss Debater,” went head-to-head Monday with among the planet’s most decorated professionals. After a 25-minute rapid-fire market about pre-school subsidies – during the female-voiced AI showed flashes of rather homo sapien humor – the crowd given the victory to Harish Natarajan, 31.

The unorthodox competition marked the most recent highly marketed man-vs. -machine obstacle. Back in 1996, IBMcreated a computer program that defeat a chess grandmaster for the first time.

IBM’s machine – recognized formally as Project Debater – kicked off Monday’s match-up using a cheeky greeting. “I have heard you have the world record in disagreement competition wins against people, but I suspect you haven’t ever debated a system. Welcome to the future.”

The event unfolded in front of tens of thousands of journalists, technology business insiders and applications engineers in IBM’s Think conference in downtown San Francisco. The topic: ” We ought to subsidize preschools. Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty was among the audiences, who voted Natarajan that the victor but also explained her institution’s machine better improved their knowledge.

The two contestants were given the subject at precisely the exact same period and had 15 minutes to pare down discussions into a four-minute speech, four-minute rebuttal and two-minute summary. Reputation at human height, Project Debater’s menacing black box remained quiet except for three rotating blue circles since it contrasts over 10 billion sentences from news articles and scientific journals. Facing her onstage, Natarajan scrawled notes on scrap paper.

While the AI dropped, the occasion was a culmination of types for the job’s progenitor, Noam Slonim. Sitting in the front row on Monday night, the IBM researcher might be seen laughing and cringing through the event. He knew they were the underdogs: Natarajan retains the world record for many debate contest successes and has attended three championships, winning the European championship in 2012.

“It’s like you are sitting there in the audience with your child on stage competing against a world class pianist and everyone is watching,” he explained. Delivery is key and”this is human territory.”

Project Debater used study and quotes from politicians to support her argument that subsidizing preschools is not just a matter of fund, but a political and ethical obligation to protect a few of society’s most vulnerable children. Natarajan countered that, too often, subsidies function as politically motivated giveaways into the middle class.

The biggest advantage any person retains over Project Debater is the ability to deliver language with emotion, wielding tone, inflection, pitch and pauses to sway an audience. A week back in London, Natarajan predicted that he would have the edge. “I imagine at this point a human would nevertheless find it less difficult to build logical arguments than the usual system could in a sense which is reasonably convincing to an individual audience,” he explained at the time.

But the track record of people vanquished by AI played Natarajan’s mind in the lead-up into the debate. He had watched”AlphaGO,” a documentary about the competition between AI and also the planet’s top Go player, who was overconfident and wound up dropping four matches to one. Natarajan realized”the hubris with which humans sometimes take playing against a machine”

Slonim hatched the concept of Project Debater at 2011 while Watson’s success in Jeopardy nevertheless succeeds. The following year, he led a study group in Israel that started studying how humans learn the art of disagreement, and built a system to mirror this process. Their machine scans more than 300 million paper articles and scientific journals to identify relevant arguments on any given topic. It then has to ascertain which facts and opinions are against or for, construct a speech and deliver it in a clear and cohesive way. What is more, the AI then must comprehend her opponent’s argument and craft a rebuttal.

In 1950, the founder of modern computing raised the question of whether machines might think for themselves. He predicted one day we’d hold a conversation using a computer and not be able to tell the difference between machine and human.

Miss Debater still needs some work. Longer-term, Slonim and his fellow investigators, Ranit Aharonov and Talia Gershon, are exploring whether AI can help enlarge your mind. For example, Project Debater can one day help lawyers pore through thousands of court cases to form final arguments, or help kids develop critical thinking skills.

“Think about it for a moment. We don’t often find a machine having an intelligent discussion with an individual for 25 minutes,” Slonim said.


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