Tech. Trends

Artificial Intelligence can now Debate with a Human.

Project Debater an Artificial Intelligence can now debate with humans.


Think about it, we are talking about an AI that can take on expert human debaters by responding to arguments using unscripted reasoning to persuade an audience to consider its position on a controversial topic. IBM’s Project Debater is a language-reasoning AI system that is built to facilitate intelligent debate.

What is Project Debater?

A system that brings AI to the art of debate. Project Debater is the first AI system that can debate humans on complex topics. Project Debater digests massive texts, constructs a well-structured speech on a given topic, delivers it with clarity and purpose, and rebuts its opponent. Eventually, Project Debater will help people reason by providing compelling, evidence-based arguments and limiting the influence of emotion, bias, or ambiguity.



The goal of the project is to challenge narratives that have become one-sided in our society. The team says that the capabilities of such an AI can help uncover hard facts that challenge the rise of misinformed and distorted views.

In a demonstration, IBM’s Project Debater argued, delivered rebuttals and summaries against the world’s top debaters. Both sides were given four minutes to deliver an opening statement, followed by a four minute rebuttal and a two minute summary. The topics ranged from subsidising space exploration to telemedicine and debater convincingly argued on each.

What makes this even more interesting is that none of them had previous knowledge of the topics presented to them. The entire debate was unscripted and unrehearsed.


Project Debater moves us a big step closer to one of the great boundaries in AI: mastering language. It is the latest in a long line of major AI innovations at IBM, which also include Deep Blue, the IBM system that took on chess world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, and IBM Watson, which beat the top human champions on Jeopardy in 2011.

The new technology will build on the solid foundation, IBM’s AI that beat human players on the televised show Jeopardy! Project Debater will expand the capabilities of API from which it borrows its Speech to Text capabilities from. Debater will contribute advanced language and dialogue features.


What makes Project Debater Unique?

Building the system was a remarkably difficult and complex challenge. Over the past six years, a global IBM Research team endowed Project Debater with three capabilities, each breaking new ground in AI:

  1. Data-driven speech writing and delivery.
  2. Listening comprehension that can identify key claims hidden within long continuous spoken language.
  3. Modelling human dilemmas in a unique knowledge graph to enable principled arguments, wrote the company in a blog post.



The Project Debater was put to tests on the 18th of June 2018 at an event in San Francisco. The AI went head-to-head on two topics: whether space exploration should be subsidized, and whether we should increase the use of telemedicine.

In both debates, the audience voted Project Debater to be worse at delivery but better in terms of knowledge. And despite several robotic slip-ups, the audience voted the AI to be more persuasive in terms of changing the audience’s position than its human opponent, in the second debate.

The competition followed a traditional debate format: Project Debater and its human challenger each presented a four-minute opening speech, then a four-minute rebuttal, and a two-minute closing statement. The system mines hundreds of millions of articles from numerous well-known newspapers and magazines searching for the most relevant points to support or contest the topic at hand.

The debate topic is not known in advance, and Project Debater is not pre-trained on any specific topic claims IBM.



IBM now aims to demonstrate it’s possible for humans to have meaningful discussions with a machine. The goal is to build a system that helps people make evidence-based decisions when the answers aren’t black-and-white. In the future, we believe machines will be able to help humans with many important decisions we make daily.


Project Debater, which has been in the works since 2012, can automatically generate a whole speech, reminiscent of an opinion article, and deliver it persuasively.  The system then uses Watson Speech to Text to listen to the human debater’s side and prepare its rebuttal. IBM says Project Debater can listen to and unpack up to four minutes of continuous spoken speech.

Because it is a machine, Project Debater is impartial—it isn’t out to prove a position or to be right. It is designed to help expand minds and help people see more than one side of an issue.


When can I see Project Debater in action?

The Project Debater will soon be in action. Watch this Space for further updates.


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