IBM Project Debater – will AI eliminate speechwriters?

IQ2I caught a rebroadcast of an Intelligence Squared debate on NPR last night.

Intelligence Squared is a weekly forum for balanced and intelligent debate. Their goal is to restore critical thinking, facts, reason, and civility to American public discourse. (Hurray for them, although I can’t help thinking they’re pissing into the prevailing wind these days.)

The episode I tuned into was first broadcast February 11, 2019 and featured a unique debate between a world-class champion debater and an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system developed by IBM called Project Debater.

While the program was a fascinating glimpse into the rather arcane world of debating, it was the implications for speechwriters that had me wondering if we’re fast approaching the time when AI will replace the need for a human being to be involved in writing well constructed, persuasive speeches.

Project Debater

Project DebaterProject Debater faced off against Harish Natarajan, a grand finalist at the 2016 World Debating Championships and winner of the 2012 European Debating Championship. His opponent at the IBM Think conference in San Francisco was Project Debater — a two-metre-tall black box. She spoke in an American female voice through a blue, animated mouth. IBM claims that it’s the first AI system that can debate humans on complex topics.

2001 A Space OdysseyDespite the rather uncanny resemblance to the black obelisk that features in the opening scene of Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, the system exhibits none of the menace of the HAL system in that dystopian view of AI.

How it works

Project Debater is designed to debate humans on complex topics using a combination of pioneering research developed by IBM, including: data-driven speechwriting and delivery, listening comprehension, and modeling human dilemmas.

It goes beyond the Watson system that famously beat a human on the TV Quiz show Jeopardy, which showed a machine could respond to open-ended questions.

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, IBM claim, Project Debater will help people reason by providing compelling, evidence-based arguments and limiting the influence of emotion, bias, or ambiguity.

Isn’t that part of your job description, speechwriters?

Speechwriting by numbers?

The IBM website does not mince words about the capabilities of their system:

Project Debater relies on three pioneering capabilities. The first is data-driven speech writing and delivery, or the ability to automatically generate a whole speech, reminiscent of an opinion article, and deliver it persuasively. The second is listening comprehension, which is the ability to understand a long spontaneous speech made by the human opponent in order to construct a meaningful rebuttal. The third is the system’s ability to model human dilemmas and form principled arguments made by humans in different debates based on a unique knowledge graph. By combining these core capabilities, it can conduct a meaningful debate with human debaters.

Of note:

  • Unlike speechwriters today, the AI system had no access to the internet.
  • The massive amount of stored data it deployed was logically organized and presented in a fraction of the time most writers would take.
  • Impressively, the system created an argument that clearly supported the side of the argument it was assigned.
  • The system synthesized input from the debate opponent — a win when a speaker needs to respond, as in political dialog.
  • Further, the AI system could easily frame both sides of a debate, helping speechwriters anticipate opposing points of view.

Overall, a sobering development.

Team player?

The question is, can speechwriters look to AI systems to be team players? Many would appreciate it if AI did the leg work assembling facts and blocking out the basic arguments. They could then give a final polish to the machines’ draft.

Or will an AI enabled speech writing entity get to the point where it will refuse to “open the pod bay door” and leave the human out in the cold? What job security can speechwriters expect in a world where AI systems can create persuasive, logical, and well-researched speeches in a fraction of the time a human could?

What say you?

No Comments so far
Leave a comment



Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)



one + = 3