AI Can Now Debate With Humans- Who Will Win The Battle?

by Kareena Dodeja

AI Can Now Debate With Humans- Who Will Win The Battle?

April 14, 2021

The art of debate has evolved throughout the years, since the ancient civilizations. With technology coming up with innovative inventions every day, Artificial Intelligence can now give you a run for your money at debating. IBM Scientists have developed an AI debating system called 'Project Debater' that can debate on hundreds of topics with ease. Get ready for a battle!

Can Consume and Reference Data like No Other

The scientists at IBM came up with an AI-powered debating system called ‘Project Debater’ to debate with humans on complex topics. It has been said that it is the first-ever AI system to help build persuasive arguments. AI systems have grown to interact with humans in any context now; the advancement of technology has made it possible. IBM is one of the companies that came up with an algorithm designed to challenge humans in debates.  The technology in just a span of two years has evolved to become much more sophisticated. 

Project Debater can operate through a broad variety of debate topics according to an article published in the journal ‘Nature.’ Project Debater is quick and can go through millions of bytes of data, and come up with witty and clever arguments. It is yet to reach to the level of utmost human intelligence, but it is on the rise. They conducted an experiment where speeches were to be given by the machine and three human debaters. They were given almost 80 different topics by the 15 members of the virtual audience.

Project Debater was efficient, as it has ground-breaking technology that came up with data-driven speech writing and delivery. The added function is that it can listen to and comprehend human dilemmas. It is fantastic as it can automatically generate a speech and even come up with a rebuttal. *Mic Drop* The AI can debate on hundreds of topics which even skilled debaters would find difficult, if they would have to switch subjects.


AI can replace humans in the vast majority of activities. AI is limited and can only find regularities in large sets of data — and human’s still have an advantage due to our ability to use causal reasoning and to ask counterfactual questions.

How Does Project Debater Work?

It delivers the speech and can understand what a person is trying to convey, to create a rebuttal that can beat us easily. It is complex as it goes through texts, drawings, and billions of sentences in newspapers and journals. It doesn’t beat around the bush and removes redundancy in texts only emphasizing claims and pieces of evidence to produce a cohesive narrative.

The speech can knock your socks off with its persuasiveness and logic. It listens to and processes the human’s response to create a phenomenal comeback. Project Debater was first introduced in 2019 in San Francisco where it showcased what it can do during a live debate. Imagine a debate competition between a debate champion Harish Natarajan and this machine. It was quite thrilling when they went head-to-head. We have only seen it in the field of gaming, a man going against a machine. Well, debating with a robot would be quite a show to get popcorn for.

They were given the topic of ‘whether or not preschools should be subsidized’, with only 15 minutes to prepare. The AI extensively researched through millions of data sets in seconds to gear up for the battle. The robotic female voice delivered the speech with opening statements and arguments that were coherent and valid. However, the Cambridge and Oxford graduate, Harish won the debate with his eloquence.

The fellow IBM researcher, Ranit Aharonov convinced the audience of nine people in the debate on the use of telemedicine. He managed to get them on his side by rebutting every point of the machine in another debate. The humans were on a roll, literally.


SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 11: Moderator John Donvan, IBM researcher Noam Slonin, Project Debater manager Ranit Aharonov and debate champion Harish Natarajan, from left, participate in a panel discussion after IBM's artificial intelligence technology take part in a live debate with Natarajan during IBM's Think 2019 conference at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Calif.

A Feat of Engineering

The lead author and IBM researcher Noam Slonim in an interview said that Project debater was still inferior compared to the average debaters. The AI can engage in several debate topics with humans ranging from subsidizing preschool to the merit of space exploration even the pros and cons of genetic engineering. In the Nature paper, Slonim and his team showed that across the 80 debate topics, Project Debater’s argument technology performed decently and a human audience was there to judge.

Professor Chris Reed at the University of Dundee is an AI expert; he said that Project Debater is a tremendous engineering feat. It is a crucial step for the development of argument technology. The success could give us a glimpse of how AI could work in the web of arguments that humans can interpret with ease.

With fake news spreading like wildfire and public opinions on the rise, we have become lazy, to got through the pile of data before forming an opinion- this could help with that. AI can win arguments with logic and facts but it still cannot outsmart professional debaters.  Project Debater can’t defeat the debating skills of humans, so we still possess the intellectual superiority – for now.



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