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Thursday, December 28, 2017

How artificial intelligence could help us to win arguments | The Independent - INDY Tech

This article below first appeared on The Conversation (

Chris Reed, professor of computer science and philosophy at the University of Dundee reports, "It is feared that algorithms are locking humans into narrow-minded points of view."

Meeting of minds: skills of critical thinking are more vital now than they have ever been.
Photo: Shutterstock

The ability to argue, to express our reasoning to others, is one of the defining features of what it is to be human.

Argument and debate form the cornerstones of civilised society and intellectual life. Processes of argumentation run our governments, structure scientific endeavour and frame religious belief. So should we worry that new advances in artificial intelligence are taking steps towards equipping computers with these skills?

As technology reshapes our lives, we are all getting used to new ways of working and new ways of interacting. Millennials have known nothing else.

Governments and judiciaries are waking up to the potential offered by technology for engaging citizens in democratic and legal processes. Some politicians, individually, are more ahead of the game in understanding the enormous role that social media plays in election processes. But there are profound challenges.

One is nicely set out by Upworthy chief executive Eli Pariser in his TED Talk. In it he explains how we are starting to live in “filter bubbles”: what you see when you search a given term on Google is not necessarily the same as what I see when I search the same term.

Media organisations from Fox News to, most recently, the BBC, are personalising content, with ID and login being used to select which stories are featured most prominently. The result is that we risk locking ourselves into echo chambers of like-minded individuals while our arguments become more one-sided, less balanced and we have less understanding of other viewpoints.

Another concern is the way in which news and information, though ever more voluminous, is becoming ever less reliable – accusations and counter-accusations of “fake news” are now commonplace.

In the face of such challenges, skills of critical thinking are more vital now than they have ever been – the ability to judge and assess evidence quickly and efficiently, to step outside our echo chamber and think about things from alternative points of view, to integrate information, often in teams, balance arguments on either side and reach robust, defensible conclusions. These are the skills of argument that have been the subject of academic research in philosophy for more than 2,000 years, since Aristotle.

The Centre for Argument Technology (ARG-tech) at the University of Dundee is all about taking and extending theories from philosophy, linguistics and psychology that tell us about how humans argue, how they disagree, and how they reach consensus – and making those theories a starting point for building artificial intelligence tools that model, recognise, teach and even take part in human arguments...

Ultimately, the goal is not to build a machine that can beat us at an argument. Much more exciting is the potential to have AI software contribute to human discussion – recognising types of arguments, critiquing them, offering alternative views and probing reasons are all things that are now within the reach of AI.

And it is here that the real value lies – having teams of arguers, some human, some machine, working together to deal with demanding, complex situations from intelligence analysis to business management.

Source: The Independent

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