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IBM’s Watson: The Debater

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“Can a computer with access to large bodies of information like Wikipedia extract relevant information, digest and reason on that information and understand the context… and present it in natural language, with no human intervention?”

That’s how John Kelly III, Senior Vice President and Director, IBM Research, introduced a new feature of Watson called “The Debater” in video interview on April 30, 2014, a session of the Milken Institute Global Conference entitled “Why Tomorrow Won’t Look Like Today: Things that Will Blow Your Mind.”

In a canned demo, Kelly chose a sample debate topic: “The sale of violent video games to minors should be banned.” The Debater was tasked with presenting pros and cons for a debate on this question.

Speaking in nearly perfect English, Watson/The Debater replied:

Scanned approximately 4 million Wikipedia articles, returning ten most relevant articles. Scanned all 3,000 sentences in top ten articles. Detected sentences which contain candidate claims. Identified borders of candidate claims. Assessed pro and con polarity of candidate claims. Constructed demo speech with top claim predictions. Ready to deliver.

It then presented three relevant pros and cons.

“Companies like pharmaceutical companies are using Watson for discovery,” said Kelly. “And the reason is, Watson can rapidly find the edges of human knowledge. It goes out, reads everything, understands what we know,” and can then suggest needed research areas.

“So Watson still needs human beings to work collaboratively with,” said moderator Richard Sandler, Executive Vice President, Milken Family Foundation. “As of today,” Kelly replied, apparently in jest.

-I for one welcome our new overlord.

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