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]

Live Debate

On February 11, 2019, Project Debater was revealed to the world in a live debate in San Francisco.[12] Nonpartisan media group Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates hosted the debate which was moderated by journalist John Donvan. The debate took place between Project Debater and Harish Natarajan, who holds the world record in number of debate competition victories. The motion was “We should subsidize preschools.” [13][14][15]

That's Debatable Television Show

Project Debater was featured in a television series called “That’s Debatable” presented by Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates and Bloomberg Media.[16] For each episode of “That’s Debatable,” Project Debater provided insight into three distinct debate topics on the redistribution of wealth, modern monetary theory, and a US-China space race. [17] More than 5,000 arguments were submitted online from around the world across the three topics, which were then analyzed and distilled into key points that were highlighted on the television show and discussed by human debaters.[18]

Artificial Intelligence Capabilities

To develop Project Debater, the IBM Research team had to endow the system[19] with the following AI capabilities:

An article on the project was published in Nature in March 2021.[22]


  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. ^ Metz, Cade; Lohr, Steve (19 June 2018). "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. ^ "Live Debate - IBM Project Debater". Intelligence Squared U.S. YouTube Channel. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  13. ^ IBM Research Editorial Staff (February 12, 2019). "Think 2019 Kicks Off with Live Debate Between Man and Machine". IBM. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  14. ^ "Live Debate - IBM Project Debater". Intelligence Squared U.S. YouTube Channel. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  15. ^ Samuel, Sigal (12 February 2019). "An AI system competed against a human debate champion. Here's what happened". Vox. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  16. ^ "Bloomberg Media and Intelligence Squared U.S. present a new limited debate series "That's Debatable" hosted by Award-Winning Journalist and Moderator John Donvan and featuring AI from IBM Watson". Bloomberg Media. September 3, 2020. Retrieved April 3, 2022.
  17. ^ "AI Can Now Debate With Humans and Sometimes Convince Them Too". Scientific American.
  18. ^ "IBM showcases latest A.I. advancements on "That's Debatable" TV show". Fortune. Retrieved October 9, 2020.
  19. ^ "AI Learns the Art of Debate with IBM Project Debater". 2016-05-16. Retrieved 2018-06-20.
  20. ^ "Listening Comprehension over Argumentative Content".
  21. ^ "How it works - Project Debater - IBM Research AI". 5 June 2018. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  22. ^ For commentary see: Reed, Chris (March 2021). "Argument technology for debating with humans". Nature. 591 (7850): 373–374. Bibcode:2021Natur.591..373R. doi:10.1038/d41586-021-00539-5. PMID 33731943. S2CID 232298409. 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. Bibcode:2021Natur.591..379S. doi:10.1038/s41586-021-03215-w. PMID 33731946. S2CID 232305184.