This algorithm identifies the key ingredients to winning a debate

Debate has always been integral to democracy. In its most beautiful form, a presidential debate is a meeting of minds, a moment when two or more upright and well-spoken potential statesmen argue over the fate of a nation and enlighten listeners about their policy positions. In its ugliest appearance, debate devolves into a charade viewed for entertainment rather than illumination, a circus performance full of eye-rolling, name-calling, and deflections.

A team of researchers at Northeastern University have taken on the task of predicting debate “winners” by deconstructing their arguments, hoping to encourage more meaningful meetings. The researchers aren’t focused on style but content — they’re concern isn’t with fancy rhetoric or theatrics but with sound reasoning. It’s an idealized outlook of debates but one they hope will help support the democratic practice.

To aid in their efforts, they developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that can pick out features of a strong argument. They trained the system on 118 Intelligence Squared debates and, simply by analyzing the argument, the algorithm was able to predict the winner nearly three-quarters of the time. A paper detailing their research was published in the journal Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics.

“Using just the debate transcripts, our model is able to predict debate … which side is likely to win over more audience support with around 74 percent accuracy,” Nick Beauchamp, an assistant political science professor at Northeastern and one of the project leads, told Digital Trends. “Many people have tried to predict debate winners before using only surface stylistic features, and ours uses all these sorts of features as well — sentiment, abstraction, sentence complexity — but using those things only gets you about 66 percent accuracy. It’s only when you add in this notion of latent arguments and argument strength that you able to predict winners so accurately.”

Despite focusing mainly on the strength of arguments, the researchers found that certain stylistic features appeared in more winning debates. Namely, concrete language (nouns, verbs, numbers) and simpler sentences. Stronger arguments also emphasize more negative emotions like anger and disgust, while weaker ones feature more positive sentiments like hope and trust. Weaker debaters also tend to use “you” and I,” while stronger ones include “we” and “us.”

Beauchamp admits that predicting a presidential debate winner (particularly after the fact) has limited use in the real world. However, he sees some utility in using this type of tool to explore and explain how and why debates are won. He envisions such a tool providing real-time feedback to viewers during a debate, from highlighting a strong and sound argument to flagging a weak one.

Emerging Tech

Man vs. machine: An A.I. algorithm attempts to break a world speed record

A new machine learning algorithm created at Switzerland’s EPFL is being used to design what its creators hope is the world's fastest bicycle. It will attempt a world record later this year.
Mobile

Corning’s Gorilla Glass 6 will help your phone survive up to 15 drops before it shatters

Corning has finally taken the wraps off of the long-awaited Gorilla Glass 6 -- a glass that will be used to protect the next generation of smartphones -- which allows your phone to survive up to 15 drops before it breaks.
Outdoors

‘Part coat, part science experiment,’ a jacket made of graphene is on the way

Outdoor performance apparel manufacturer Vollebak announced it will release a jacket made from graphene later this summer, marking one of the first times the material has been used in clothing.
Gaming

The 10 best PUBG weapons to win you that coveted chicken dinner

Which weapons in PUBG are worth the time to scout out and fit with attachments? Which are going to help you become the last player standing? We've got the answers, and our best weapon guide will make sure you know what to look for.
Gaming

One game console is better than the rest, and we're not afraid to say it

We've seen a relatively large influx of new consoles in the last year, including the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One X, so we've updated our recommendations for the best dedicated game hardware.
Photography

When you're ready to shoot seriously, these are the best DSLRs you can buy

For many photographers the DSLR is the go-to camera. With large selection of lenses, great low-light performance, and battery endurance, these DSLRs deliver terrific image quality for stills and videos.
Mobile

Tech Armor says its new screen protector improves iPhone performance. We tested it

Tech Armor has a new screen protector for the iPhone, the Enhance, that can redirect harmful radiation, while improving cell signal and battery life. Skeptical? So were we, so we put it to the test.
Home Theater

Are there reasons to own a projector when big TVs are so cheap? Glad you asked

Since no aspect of your home theater setup is more important than your display, we weigh in on the projectors vs. TVs debate. We've put together this comprehensive guide to help you find the right option for your lifestyle.
Product Review

'Far Cry 5' trades palm trees for pines, but it's still the same old game

Far Cry 5 has all the pieces of a lighthearted open-world romp and a dark, fascinating narrative-driven game. Unfortunately, the two are incompatible.
Computing

Chrome is still our favorite browser (but Firefox is catching up!)

Choosing a web browser for surfing the web can be tough with all the great options you have out there. Here we pit the latest versions of Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Edge, and Vivaldi against one another to find the best browsers for most…
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Laptop screen extenders and self-healing tents

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Cars

From a bad battery to a crash, Virginia Tech’s automated car beat all challenges

Eight colleges across America were chosen to compete in a three-year challenge to build an autonomous car. Sponsored by General Motors and SAE, the AutoDrive Challenge offers college students the chance to create a Level 4 autonomous…
Emerging Tech

Gotta catch em all: Harvard’s undersea grabber is a Poké Ball for sea life

Harvard’s new folding origami robot grabber is designed to perform delicate feats, such as catching underwater creatures with ease -- and crucially, without injuring them in the process.
Gaming

Will Antonio Brown fall victim to the Madden Curse?

Join us as we take a tour through the long-running history of the Madden Curse -- and Tom Brady's recent accolades. We all know John Madden is a longtime NFL talent, but is he also an agent of dark forces?
Cars

Keep your driving record squeaky clean with these top-flight radar detectors

Nobody likes getting a speeding ticket, but these gadgets can help. Check out our picks for the best radar detectors on the market, from the likes of Valentine One, Escort, and Whistler.
Computing

The MacBook Pro got bumped with new processors. Does the XPS 13 still beat it?

Dell has completely revamped the XPS 13 for 2018, giving it a fresh new design and boosted internals. How does it stack up against the classic MacBook Pro? When you consider the Dell XPS 13 vs. MacBook Pro 13, here's how it plays out.
Emerging Tech

Moving around in zero gravity is hard. MIT’s solution? Spider-Man’s web shooter

Researchers from MIT have been researching ways for astronauts to easily move around in microgravity. One solution is that they can use Spider-Man-style web shooters to pull themselves around.
Emerging Tech

World’s first VR-augmented waterslide is totally unnecessary, but also amazing

An amusement park in Germany unveiled the world's first waterslide that requires riders to wear a virtual reality headset. Here's what went into making this waterlogged VR dream a reality.
Emerging Tech

Rolls-Royce is creating a fleet of robotic snakes and beetles to repair planes

Researchers from Rolls-Royce are creating snake and insect-swarm-inspired robots that are designed to crawl inside airplane engines to carry out inspections and perform maintenance.
Emerging Tech

12 new moons were discovered orbiting Jupiter, and one’s an ‘oddball’

Jupiter's got 12 new moons. Well, not exactly. Those dozen moons have, of course, always been in Jupiter's orbit, but it was only this week that researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science announced their discovery.
Features

From picking to pollinating, agribots are pushing farming into the future

Farming is becoming increasingly challenging. To deal with environmental pollution, labor shortage, and other major issues, agricultural scientists are turning to robots and AI.
Emerging Tech

New VR horror game gets scarier if your heart rate isn’t fast enough

In new VR game Bring to Light, players can strap on a heart rate monitor to personalize the fear factor. Get too comfortable, and the game’s A.I. will know to ramp up the terror.
Emerging Tech

The UN and Yale unite to build a ‘smart’ tiny house for the future

In an effort to create more sustainable and affordable housing for future populations, the United Nations and Yale University recently teamed together and created an environmentally minded tiny house.