IBM just demonstrated a deep-learning system that is a follow-on of sorts to the Watson Jeopardy demonstration from several years ago. For this IBM Debater project, Watson was trained to intelligently debate on approximately 100 different topics. In this particular demonstration, the IBM system was challenged by Noa Ovadia a college senior who was the Israeli debate champion of 2016. The two held a traditional debate on the topic of Subsidized Space Exploration. Each side made an opening statement followed by a rebuttal of the opponent’s position, and then a closing statement. Although this demonstration was not a traditional Turing test, it shows that progress is being made in the quest for machines that can intelligently interact with humans in conversational speech.
In fact, this is the 2nd demonstration of recent progress toward this goal. A few weeks ago, Google unveiled the Duplex system that demonstrated very human-like speech and interaction with a phone call to schedule restaurant reservations and hair salon appointments. It appeared in those demos that the real humans on the other end of a phone call did not actually realize they were talking to a computer and held a very natural conversation. Although the Google Duplex conversations took place in a very constrained topic area (as was the IBM Debater demonstration) these advancements show that rapid progress is being made to extend the limited conversation ability of systems like Amazon Echo, Apple Siri, and Google Assistant.
Experience shows that once the basic infrastructure has been implemented and demonstrated for one domain, these types of systems rapidly expand to support many more domains of knowledge and interaction. I can foresee similar systems supporting conversations one might have with a doctor, for example, or a financial planner, or in fact, any relatively-constrained domain of knowledge. I expect it won’t be long before many of the jobs currently held by humans, to provide advice to other humans on various topics, will transition to systems like those now being demonstrated by IBM and Google.
This rapid progress is both fascinating and worrisome. Past labor transitions where technology has eliminated certain jobs has always resulted in new jobs being created that never existed before. Is this time different, or are there whole new classes of jobs on the horizon that none of us currently envision? Only time will tell.