A New AI Machine That’s Mastering the Human Art of Debate

A new IBM machine that runs on artificial intelligence is making a convincing case that it’s mastering the human art of persuasion.

“Project Debater” can analyze 300 million articles on a given topic and construct a persuasive speech about it. It would take a human—reading twenty-four hours a day—about 2,000 years to get through the same material. Project Debater does it in 10 minutes.

After speaking to IBM researchers and AI specialists, I can confidently tell you that the machine will not replace humans anytime soon. Yes, it has profound implications for how we make decisions to solve the complex challenges we might face. But while Project Debater can synthesize human arguments into a reasonably coherent speech; it does not have feelings one way or the other. It doesn’t have human emotion.

Neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have discovered that, without emotions, humans would be incapable of making even the smallest decision. Without emotion, “we wouldn’t have music, art, religion, science, technology, economics, politics, justice, or moral philosophy,” says Damasio.

After Garry Kasparov lost a chess match to an IBM machine in 1997, he felt “unsettled.” But today he says that humans and machines can work together to advance the world and to make better decisions. In a TED Talk, Kasparov said, “Machines have calculations. We have understanding. Machines have instructions. We have purpose. Machines have objectivity. We have passion…There’s one thing only a human can do. That’s dream. So let us dream big.”

Kasparov’s observation echoes the comments of a prominent AI specialist who was recently featured on 60 Minutes. His name is Kai-Fu Lee and he’s the author of AI Super Powers. I spoke to Lee directly after the book was published last year.

“AI can handle a growing number of non-personal, non-creative, routine tasks,” Lee told me. But Lee says the skills that make us uniquely human are ones that no machine can replicate. The jobs of the future, says Lee, will require creative, compassionate, and empathetic leaders who know how to create trust, build teams, inspire service, and communicate effectively.

“People don’t want to interact with robots for communication-oriented jobs. They don’t want to listen to robots making speeches, leading the company, giving pep talks, or earning our trust.”

Lee gave me a piece of advice that I’d like to share with all of you. “Let machines be machines and let humans be humans.” Choose to do what humans do best—inspire, collaborate, communicate, and ignite the imagination.

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