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IBM AI Loses Debate to Human Champion

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In the battle of man versus machine, crushing defeats by DeepMind’s artificially intelligent Go and StarCraft gaming systems tipped the scales in favor of automation.

But humankind is making a comeback.

On Monday, IBM’s seven-year-old AI debating system Project Debater went head-to-head with a mortal world debate champion Harish Natarajan in a public contest.

The pair, moderated by Intelligence Squared host John Donvan, delivered arguments for and against the resolution “We should subsidize preschool.”

With just 15 minutes to prepare for the event, Project Debater and Natarajan each delivered a four-minute opening statement, four-minute rebuttal, and two-minute summary.

A tall, sleek monolith with a rectangular mouth of blue sound waves, the IBM machine’s knowledge base consists of about 10 billion sentences, collected from newspapers and journals.

In a live debate, it searches for short pieces of text in its massive digital library to defend or oppose the motion.

“This requires a deep understanding of human language and its infinite nuances and very precise stance identification,” creators Ranit Aharonov and Noam Slonim wrote in a blog post. “[That’s] something that is not always easy for humans and is certainly very difficult for computers.”

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In a matter of seconds, Project Debater can remove redundant argumentative texts, select the strongest remaining claims and evidence, arrange them by theme, and create a narrative of support or contention.

It also listens to and digests the opponent’s responses, building a counterstatement in a “surprisingly charming and human-sounding” way, according to Donvan.

Project Debater debuted in June, participating in its first live public event before a small audience. At this week’s IBM Think conference in San Francisco, it faced off against Natarajan in front of a large in-person audience, with many more watching via livestream (video above).

The winner was determined by his (Natarajan’s) or her (Project Debater’s) ability to convince the audience of the persuasiveness of their arguments. Results were formulated in a real-time online poll.

Before the debate, 79 percent of the audience agreed that preschools should be subsidized, while 13 percent disagreed (8 percent were undecided). After hearing both sides present, 62 percent agreed that preschools should be subsidized, while 30 percent disagreed—clinching Natarajan’s win.

Despite the setback, IBM should consider this a win: More than half of participants said that Project Debater better enriched their knowledge about the topic, compared to only 20 percent for Natarajan.

“Ultimately, what we saw was that the interaction of man and machine could be enriching for both,” Slonim said in a statement following the debate. “It’s not a question of one being better than the other, but about AI and humans working together.”

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Tokyo Introduces Support Robots for 2020 Olympics

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Human athletes won’t be the only spectacles at next summer’s Olympic Games.

As part of the aptly named Tokyo 2020 Robot Project, the organizing committee introduced a team of androids designed to assist disabled fans at the sporting extravaganza.

Olympic sponsor Toyota is contributing the Human Support Robot (HSR) and Delivery Support Robot (DSR), which will roam the National Stadium, carrying food and other goods, guiding people to their seats, and providing event information.

Human Support Robot (HSR), developed by Toyota Motor Corporation (via Tokyo 2020)

“We believe that the robots will help spectators in wheelchairs to enjoy watching the events without any restrictions, to soak up the atmosphere inside stadiums, and to feel the excitement of sport,” Nobuhiko Koga, chief officer of Toyota’s Frontier Research Center, said in a statement.

Officials plan to deploy up to 16 HSRs and five DSRs, as reported by the Associated Press.

Delivery Support Robot (DSR), developed by Toyota Motor Corporation (via Tokyo 2020)

Panasonic, also a major sponsor, will provide 20 of its Power Assist Suits, used to support the wearer’s back and hips while carrying or lifting heavy objects—like, say, guest luggage.

“We strongly believe that our robot technology … will be of use to all people regardless of impairments, and to society in general, becoming a legacy for future generations,” according to Panasonic Executive Officer Masahiro Ido.

Panasonic’s Power Assist Suits come in handy when handling heavy luggage (via Tokyo 2020)

While these bots will be deployed in specific roles during the Games, the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project team hopes this international stage will help showcase their potential for wider applications in everyday life.

“The Tokyo 2020 Games are a unique opportunity for us to display Japanese robot technology,” Hirohisa Hirukawa, leader of the Tokyo 2020 Robot Project, said in a statement.

“This project will not simply be about exhibiting robots, but showcasing their practical real-life deployment helping people,” he continued. “So there will be not only sports at the Tokyo 2020 Games, but some cool robots at work to look forward to, as well.”

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AI Polygraph Is Better At Detecting Lies Than You

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Some people are natural liars, while others have no poker face. But it doesn’t take much to fool someone in blind computer conversations.

In an attempt to remove those blinders, Florida State University researcher Shuyuan Ho has developed the first online polygraph test.

“You could use it for online dating, Facebook, Twitter—the applications are endless,” Ho, an associate professor in the College of Communication and Information, said in a statement. “I think the future is unlimited for an online polygraph system.”

Imagine a future where technology can automatically identify liars and truth-tellers based on the words they type in electronic messages.

In a study published by the journal Computer in Human Behavior, Ho detailed the findings of an online game created to measure truthful and deceptive communication between people.

Players were randomly assigned the role of “Saint” or “Sinner,” then left to have a computerized chat. Researchers, meanwhile, followed along, using machine learning tech to scrutinize patterns of words and writing.

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Just as physical cues provide context, so, too, do language-action cues in written text.

Lying sinners were less expressive but used more ornamental words, displayed more negative emotions, and appeared anxious when communicating with truth-tellers.

Conversely, saints tended toward speculation, taking longer to respond to inquiries; sincere players provided more reasoned ideas and expressed more reflective thinking, according to the study.

Ho’s experiment highlighted that while a human can spot lies in messages about 50 percent of the time, the machine-learning approach has a much higher success rate of 85 to 100 percent.

“I want to get the world’s attention on this research so we can hopefully make it into a commercial product that could be attached to all kinds of online social forums,” she said.

“I think we all have good common sense about the people we meet face to face, but how much common sense do we have with the strangers we encounter online where you can meet a lot of people very fast,” Ho continued. “This research is so important because it can provide another reference point offering more protection. All of society can benefit.”

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Jeff Bezos Shows Off ‘Nerdy’ Innovations at Annual Mars Conference

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Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, is hosting his annual Mars Conference again, an invite-only event that showcases many “nerdy” innovations, including flying robots, electric multicopters, and rocket engines.

The conference, which is taking place in Palm Springs, California this week, celebrates quirky technology in the sectors of machine learning, automation, robotics, and space (MARS), CNBC reported. The aim of the Mars Conference is to advance new technology ideas, enable attendees to engage with high-tech gadgets, and discuss how these four fields will impact the future.

This year, Bezos opened the Mars Conference by taking “my new dog,” Boston Dynamics’ latest electric quadruped SpotMini robot dog, out for a quick stroll on the grounds, TechCrunch noted.

However, this wasn’t all: The Mars Conference, which doesn’t allow press in, only gives fans a sneak peek of what’s happening via tweets. Attendees shared some cool insights from the invite-only event on Twitter.

Star Wars actor Mark Hamill discussed robot sidekicks.

Bezos went for a ride in Hexa’s electric, single-passenger multicoptor.

Attendees experienced an “out of this world” feeling with NASA’s Orion spacecraft simulator.

Meet Centauro, the robot that can be your next yoga buddy.

Blue Origin’s massive rocket engine was on display outside.

Even though the “secret” Mars Conference is in session, it will be interesting to see which “geeky” devices will be advancing machine learning, automation, robotics, and space in coming years.

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