Computers versus humans: from chess to a debate

June 22, 2018
by Mark Ollig

Over the last 20 years, you and I have witnessed impressive displays of the analytical and computational abilities of computers.

One such display was in 1997, when IBM’s supercomputer, nicknamed Big Blue, played a six-game chess tournament against a human.

Mind you, this was no ordinary human chess player.

The supercomputer was playing against the world chess champion and Russian chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov.

This would be the ultimate chess challenge for Kasparov.

The Deep Blue supercomputer used advanced software programming tables, and 200 processors capable of analyzing millions of chess positions per second.

It was a super-intelligent computer when it came to playing chess.

On the other hand, Kasparov could foresee at least 15 chess moves ahead during a game, and was a master of chess strategy.

The chess match began, and after 45 moves, Kasparov won the first game.

However, Deep Blue rebounded, and Kasparov was forced to resign from the second game.

The third, fourth, and fifth games all ended in a draw.

Suspense set in, as the sixth game would determine the winner of the chess match.

May 11, 1997, the final chess game between the computer and Kasparov was broadcast live on television with millions (including me) watching.

Within an hour, and after 18 moves, Deep Blue captured Kasparov’s queen, and for all intents and purposes ended any realistic chances for Kasparov to win.

Kasparov resigned from the game.

The computer won the game and the chess match.

Years later, I read about Garry Kasparov wanting a rematch with the Deep Blue computer; strangely, IBM refused.

“Deep Blue was intelligent the way your programmable alarm clock is intelligent. Not that losing to a $10 million alarm clock made me feel any better,” Kasparov wrote in 2017.

Now that we know a supercomputer can play a decent game of chess; how would one do going up against a couple of humans in a debate?

IBM answered this question June 18 in San Francisco, when a new computing system it has been working on since 2012, nicknamed Project Debater, battled wits against two professional human debaters.

To give you a visual perspective; Project Debater’s computing intelligence is contained within a 5-foot-tall rectangle frame designed like a monolithic domino.

The topic of this debate: Make a case for government-subsidized space research.

Rules of the debate included a four-minute opening and rebuttal, and a two-minute summary statement by the computer and the humans.

The debate took place in front of a live audience.

With access to hundreds of millions of newspaper articles and other source material, such as academic journals, and even Wikipedia, Project Debater was well-armed with information to analyze, build, and defend its position.

And so, the great debate began.

“Subsidizing space exploration is like investing in really good tires. It may not be fun to spend the extra money, but ultimately, you know both you and everyone else on the road will be better off,” reasoned the IBM debater computer using a female voice.

“IBM debater can have all the opinions in the world, but IBM debater does not pay taxes, and we do,” one of the human debaters quickly said.

The computer calmly responded, “You are speaking at the extremely fast rate of 218 words per minute; there is no need to hurry.”

The audience laughed.

The computer continued, “Such research would enrich the human mind, inspire young people, and be a very sound investment.”

So, who ended up winning the computer versus human debate?

While an official winner was not chosen, according to those watching in the audience, the humans “were better speakers and more persuasive,” while the AI debating computer “was more knowledgeable.”

Members of the audience also believed they learned more from the computer.

This debate was a look at how the future of AI technology will interact with people.

AI will contribute its analytical resources and algorithmic perspective in future decision-making scenarios.

“What we are trying to accomplish here, is really to demonstrate that we can have a meaningful and valuable discussion between man and machine,” said IBM researcher, Noam Slonim.

It is hoped AI will add to the conversation and augment specific discussions by offering facts, opinions, and performing a “different kind of argumentation.”

Currently, IBM’s Project Debater AI computing system is still in the research stage.

I learned we won’t need to have a physical AI computer; IBM is making the computing system’s AI resources available as a cloud service.

Their goal is for organizations to build persuasive arguments and make well-informed decisions using artificial intelligence.

Time will tell for whom and what purposes future AI decisions will be made.

A short video by IBM Research introducing Project Debater can be seen at https://bit.ly/2ylxW4M.

The webpage for IBM’s Project Debater is https://ibm.co/2t9dsHc.

Be sure to visit my weblog at https://bitscolumn.blogspot.com.

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