New IBM Product Can Debate Humans but Can’t Turn Around the Company

Print Email

International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) has made another reality show of its most exciting technology. It has a system that can effectively debate a human, and perhaps win. The debate system almost certainly won’t help IBM revenue and the erosion the struggling company has done to its share price.

The new IBM effort has received extensive press coverage. In the words of the company’s management:

Project Debater is the first AI system that can debate humans on complex topics. Project Debater digests massive texts, constructs a well-structured speech on a given topic, delivers it with clarity and purpose, and rebuts its opponent. Eventually, Project Debater will help people reason by providing compelling, evidence-based arguments and limiting the influence of emotion, bias, or ambiguity.

The applications are “eventual,” which means they may never exist at all. What they will do for companies and individuals is also hard to tell. What IBM claims is that its AI (artificial intelligence) products will help to eliminate “distorted facts,” a by-product of which is that human activity, like negotiations, could be stifled.

IBM recently introduced the world’s most powerful supercomputer. Its function will be valuable, particularly to science. However, IBM made no comments about sales revenue, which has been true with most of its advanced initiatives, some of which sit under the umbrella of its Watson brand, named after the company’s first two CEOs, Thomas J. Watson and Thomas J. Watson, Jr. Between them, they ran IBM from 1914 through 1971.

The announcements of powerful technology are part of plans by current CEO Virginia M. Rometty to show that IBM has the products to help it push into the next generation of cloud and AI products. Outsiders have been skeptical. After years of performance in which IBM’s revenue has fallen, it ticked up 5% in the most recent quarter to $19.1 billion. Revenue from cloud-based products was not enough to quiet skeptics. IBM’s shares are down 6.3% this year, against a 2.9% increase in the S&P 500. In the past five years, they are down 24% while the S&P 500 is 73% higher.

IBM’s new product can debate humans effectively, but that won’t help the company’s problems.