Artificial intelligence wins a debate against a human—twice

Please tell me that Internet trolls didn't just get a huge leg up.

In the year 1770, a chess-playing "automaton" known as The Turk debuted in Vienna, Austria. It appeared to beat humans at chess, losing very rarely. It was actually an elaborate hoax, with a human being as the real champion chess player, manipulating the Turk via mechanical means from inside. 



(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

It took another 227 years for an actual computer to beat humans at playing chess in 1997. Now, 22 years later, an A.I. created by IBM—represented by a black box on stage but actually consisting of a group of computers in one of IBM's data centers—named Project Debater has defeated humans in the art of debate. Twice.

The judges were around two dozen panelists who listened as Project Debater took on Noa Ovadia over her position that governments shouldn't fund space exploration and, according to the judges, the machine won. Next, it went up against debater Dan Zafrir, with Project Debater taking a position that telemedicine is a good thing and needs to be increased. 

In both cases, the arguments were prepared by the computer by researching millions of online articles and documents in real time, after it was presented the subject to argue. Then, it formulated its position, and finally, successfully defended it against attack.

Project Debater closed the telemedicine argument with a bit of humor. "I can't say it makes my blood boil, because I have no blood, but it seems some people naturally suspect technology because it's new."

Aya Soffer, who runs IBM Research's global Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) team, summed up why the company is working on the project.

"From our perspective, the debate format is the means and not the end. It's a way to push the technology forward and part of our bigger strategy of mastering language. In general, computers are lagging significantly in understanding and being able to express themselves. If we expect A.I. to be useful, being able to communicate with people is critical." 

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

4 reasons Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for universal basic income

In his final years, Martin Luther King, Jr. become increasingly focused on the problem of poverty in America.

(Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Despite being widely known for his leadership role in the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. also played a central role in organizing the Poor People's Campaign of 1968.
  • The campaign was one of the first to demand a guaranteed income for all poor families in America.
  • Today, the idea of a universal basic income is increasingly popular, and King's arguments in support of the policy still make a good case some 50 years later.
Keep reading Show less

Dead – yes, dead – tardigrade found beneath Antarctica

A completely unexpected discovery beneath the ice.

(Goldstein Lab/Wkikpedia/Tigerspaws/Big Think)
Surprising Science
  • Scientists find remains of a tardigrade and crustaceans in a deep, frozen Antarctic lake.
  • The creatures' origin is unknown, and further study is ongoing.
  • Biology speaks up about Antarctica's history.
Keep reading Show less

Why I wear my life on my skin

For Damien Echols, tattoos are part of his existential armor.

Videos
  • In prison Damien Echols was known by his number SK931, not his name, and had his hair sheared off. Stripped of his identity, the only thing he had left was his skin.
  • This is why he began tattooing things that are meaningful to him — to carry a "suit of armor" made up the images of the people and objects that have significance to him, from his friends to talismans.
  • Echols believes that all places are imbued with divinity: "If you interact with New York City as if there's an intelligence behind... then it will behave towards you the same way."
Keep reading Show less