IBM is bringing Project Debater to Watson

IBM today announced plans to integrate Project Debater into Watson Group products like Watson NLP, Watson Knowledge Studio, and Watson Discovery later this year. This is the first commercialization of Project Debater since IBM Research introduced the AI capable of maintaining debate with human champions in June 2018.

In its first match, which took place for an audience of reporters and investors at offices in San Francisco, Project Debater argued against Israel International Debate Society president Dan Zafrir and 2016 national Israeli debate champion Noa Ovadia.

Work started on Debater six years ago, but the system only gained the ability to spar with humans about four years ago, Noam Slonim, IBM Research principal investigator and creator of Project Debater, told VentureBeat. Project Debater is trained on millions of news articles and other content.

The second debate — on whether governments should subsidize preschool — took place about a year ago, when Debater took on 2016 World Debating Championship grand finalist Harish Natarajan for an episode of popular debate podcast Intelligence Squared.

In IBM Watson products, Debater will power Watson sentiment analysis, summarization, and clustering topics found in language.

“Those are, I’d say, three core capabilities that enable Debater to do what it can do. Because you can’t really form an argument or form a debate if you can’t cluster topics, if you can’t summarize what you’ve heard, and you can’t do sentiment analysis,” IBM Data and AI general manager Rob Thomas told VentureBeat in an interview.

Project Debater’s demonstrated ability to hear arguments and then generate counterarguments will not be part of the release.

Like Watson’s evolution from a 2011 Jeopardy! champion to a commercial product, involving Project Debater in sales comes with risk. After the IBM Watson Group was formed, it developed a reputation for marketing Watson AI as capable of virtually anything, from Jeopardy! and enterprise applications to fighting cancer and helping you do your taxes.

“We’ve gotten more precise in how we do that,” Thomas said. “And so the tools I talked about, all those tools are branded Watson — so far as Watson Studio, Watson Machine Learning, Watson Open Scale, Watson Knowledge Catalog. Those are all organic and built in collaboration, typically with IBM Research. I’d say that’s kind of the overarching branding strategy.”

IBM shared no specific date for when it plans to integrate Project Debater into its Watson product suite.

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