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Augmenting Humans: IBM’s Project Debater AI gives human debating teams a hand at Cambridge

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Two teams, sparring on a controversial topic — whether artificial intelligence would bring more harm than good — the Thursday night debate in front of 300-strong audience seemed rather typical for Cambridge Union, the world’s oldest debating society.

Except it wasn’t.

It was the first-of-its-kind for this ornate, 150-year-old Debating Chamber that once hosted British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, US President Theodore Roosevelt, the current Dalai Lama, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking — and even, to the delight of the TV series Baywatch fans, American actress Pamela Anderson.

Because this time, the humans taking part in the debate — discussing whether the AI would bring more harm than good to the society — were augmented.

“AI will not be able to make morally correct decisions.” The soft, pleasant female voice was strangely omnipresent, like fog enveloping the public. And then, after a pause, the voice spoke again: “AI has a lower rate of error than humans.” It seemed to have completely changed its stance.

Read Katia Moskvitch’s recap of the entire debate on Medium.

Project Debater at the Cambridge Union Society.

Project Debater at the Cambridge Union Society.

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