IBM Watson
IBM's Watson has been programmed to logically lay out the pros and cons of an argument and present them in natural language.IBM

IBM's Watson, the supercomputer made famous by its winning performance on the US gameshow Jeopardy, has been programmed to argue on complex moral and ethical issues.

The Debater function can be used to gather the pros and cons of any subject and construct arguments without any human intervention.

The prototype system was unveiled at a session at the Milken Institute Global Conference called Why Tomorrow Won't Look Like Today: Things that Will Blow Your Mind.

"This will give you a hint and a sense of where Watson is going in the future," said John Kelly, senior vice president at IBM Research.

"The real question is: Can a computer not just answer complex questions with simple answers but can a computer take raw information and digest and reason on that information and understand the context."

In a demonstration video, the debater programme is given the topic: "The sale of violent video games to minors should be banned."

With access to large bodies of digital information, Watson responds in near-perfect English by outlining the primary arguments for and against the banning of such games to minors.

Official Watson logo

"Scanned approximately four million Wikipedia articles, returning 10 most relevant articles," Watson said. "Scanned all 3,000 sentences in top 10 articles. Detected sentences which contain candidate claims.

"Assessed pro and con polarity of candidate claims. Constructed demo speech with top claim predictions. Ready to deliver."

The argument laid out gave the top three most relevant pros and cons to the issue, although no conclusions were drawn by Watson.

Kelly believes that this technology can be used in a variety of real-world applications, including within pharmaceutical companies to create protocols for oncologists to deliver all the known medical information into debates and decision processes.

"Think about what this means. It's no longer a game 'man-versus-machine', it's man and machine reasoning together," Kelly said. "I believe this is the future of computing."