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How artificial intelligence can be used for human debate

How artificial intelligence can be used for human debate article image

Forget about surveys and questionnaires. At CES 2019 recently, IBM unveiled new technology demonstrating how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to analyse contentious issues and make an argument for or against.

Project Debater – Speech by Crowd is a new and experimental cloud-based AI platform for crowdsourcing decision support.

It uses the core AI behind Project Debater to collect free-text arguments from large audiences on debatable topics and automatically construct persuasive viewpoints to support or contest the topic.

Every day at CES introduced a new topic and a new challenge for Project Debater – and it rose to the challenge.

For example, a broad cross-section of people globally were invited to submit arguments for and against the topic “Gambling should be banned.”

The majority of arguments were against the proposal. Using that input, Project Debater constructed two original speeches, the results of which are shown here.

Highest quality arguments selected

To construct the speeches, Project Debater analysed the arguments, compiled them into related clusters, and selected the most representative and highest-quality ones to include in its speeches. You can explore how the speeches were constructed through IBM’s Speech by Crowd experience online.

When Project Debater debated two humans in June, it relied on 10 billion sentences from newspapers, magazines and journals. Speech by Crowd puts a new spin on this concept by analysing information submitted by participants. Using crowdsourced content as input poses some new challenges, such as typos, grammar mistakes, and variable argument quality – but IBM says Project Debater handled all these challenges well.

Project Debater was also shown to have a sense of humour. This was demonstrated during the gambling should be banned debate. A key theme in this speech was that gambling facilitates criminal activity.

Project Debater introduced this point by asserting: “It is no crime to share the following comments about the subject,” prompting chuckles from the CES crowd that had gathered to hear the speeches.

Project Debater – Speech by Crowd faced its second challenge when people were invited to contribute arguments both for and against the idea that we should stop the development of autonomous cars – a hot topic at CES.

Hundreds of arguments were submitted and almost two-thirds of them were against the idea of stopping the development of autonomous cars.

But Project Debater did not choose sides, constructing compelling speeches representing both the pro and con positions. You can find the resulting speeches here and drill down into how Project Debater came up with them.

Arguments were written by hundreds of people in their own words, and from these very disparate submissions, Project Debater extracted key themes, summarized them concisely, and chose appropriate arguments to support each theme. This resulted in two coherent and persuasive narratives, representing both sides of the debate around autonomous cars.

Challenge of ambiguity

It was interesting to see how Project Debater handled statements whose polarity (whether they were pro or con) was ambiguous.

Project Debater isn’t told a priori whether a statement supports or contests the topic – it determines this for itself.

For example, in its speech against stopping development of autonomous cars, Project Debater included the argument: “Autonomous cars need new insurance systems and new legal rules, because it must be clear who bears costs if an accident happens.”

This argument seemed to suggest that development of these vehicles should stop until such measures are in place. But a member of our audience pointed out the argument could instead be interpreted as encouraging the involvement of insurers and regulatory authorities, which would be a positive outcome of continued development.

This ability to present new points of view is a unique and exciting aspect of Project Debater – the technology is designed to help expand minds and help people see more than one side of an issue.

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