Project Debater


Project Debater is an IBM artificial intelligence project, designed to participate in a full live debate with expert human debaters.[1][2][3][4] It follows on from the Watson project which played Jeopardy![5]


Project Debater was developed at IBM's lab in Haifa, Israel.[5] The project was proposed by Noam Slonim in 2011 as the IBM Research next Grand Challenge, following Deep Blue and the victory of Watson in Jeopardy![6][7] It was exposed for the first time in a closed media event at June 18, 2018, in San Francisco, under the leadership of Ranit Aharonov and Slonim, both from the IBM Research lab in Haifa, Israel.[8] The AI technology debated two human debaters, Noa Ovadia, who was the 2016 Israeli debate champion and Dan Zafrir. The two debated on the topics "We should subsidize space exploration"[9] and "Should we increase the use of telemedicine."[10]

A demonstration of Project Debater also aired on the Discovery Channel in June 2018 debating the question of whether sports gambling should be legalized.[11]

On February 11, 2019, Project Debater debated Harish Natarajan, who holds the world record in number of debate competition victories. Both sides debated the topic “We should subsidize preschools”.[12]

The debate took place in San Francisco, in front of live audience of around 800 people, and was hosted by Intelligence Squared and moderated by John Donvan.

To develop Project Debater, the IBM Research team had to endow the system[13] with the following AI capabilities:

  • Data-driven speech writing and delivery: Project Debater is the first demonstration of a computer that can digest massive corpora, and given a short description of a controversial topic, write a well-structured speech, and deliver it with clarity and purpose, while even incorporating humor where appropriate.
  • Listening comprehension: the ability to identify the key concepts and claims hidden within long continuous spoken language.[14]
  • Four minutes of persuasive speech: the guarantee of producing four minutes of persuasive speech.[15]
  • Modeling human dilemmas: modeling the world of human controversy and dilemmas in a unique knowledge representation, enabling the system to suggest principled arguments as needed.

An article on the project was published in Nature in March 2021.[16]


  1. ^ Solon, Olivia (2018-06-19). "Man 1, machine 1: landmark debate between AI and humans ends in draw". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-06-19.
  2. ^ "IBM's Debating AI Is Here to Convince You That You're Wrong". Retrieved 2018-06-19.
  3. ^ "The computer taking on humans in debate". BBC News. Retrieved 2018-06-19.
  4. ^ Lee, Dave (2018-06-19). "IBM's machine argues with humans". BBC News. Retrieved 2018-06-20.
  5. ^ a b "IBM's got a computer that'll take on your debate team and maybe win. It's a new frontier for AI". CNET. 2018-06-18. Retrieved 2018-06-20.
  6. ^ "What it's like to watch an IBM AI successfully debate humans". The Verge. Retrieved 2018-06-19.
  7. ^ "IBM Unveils System That 'Debates' With Humans". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-06-20.
  8. ^ McCracken, Harry (20 June 2018). "Meet the AI that IBM Research is teaching to debate human beings". Fast Company. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  9. ^ "IBM's Project Debater is an AI that's ready to argue". Engadget. Retrieved 2018-06-20.
  10. ^ "IBM shows off an artificial intelligence that can debate a human – and do pretty well". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2018-06-20.
  11. ^ Discovery Channel. Progress in AI Research. June 2018. [1].
  12. ^ Samuel, Sigal (12 February 2019). "An AI system competed against a human debate champion. Here's what happened". Vox. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  13. ^ "AI Learns the Art of Debate with IBM Project Debater". 2016-05-16. Retrieved 2018-06-20.
  14. ^ "Listening Comprehension over Argumentative Content".
  15. ^ "How it works - Project Debater - IBM Research AI". Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  16. ^ For commentary see: Reed, Chris (March 2021). "Argument technology for debating with humans". Nature. 591 (7850): 373–374. doi:10.1038/d41586-021-00539-5. PMID 33731943. The original article is: Slonim, Noam; Bilu, Yonatan; Alzate, Carlos; Bar-Haim, Roy; Bogin, Ben; Bonin, Francesca; Choshen, Leshem; Cohen-Karlik, Edo; Dankin, Lena; Edelstein, Lilach (March 2021). "An autonomous debating system". Nature. 591 (7850): 379–384. doi:10.1038/s41586-021-03215-w. PMID 33731946.