Canonical debates + home personal assistants: A meaningful relationship?

I just had one of those thoughts that kind of blew my own mind. Like most "innovations", I just took two different things, and nailed them together in a surprising way. You may not find this that amazing, but personally, I'm thrilled.

I have recently written some scripts for Amazon Alexa. One, for example, was an interactive “bot” for Xmas to help my daughter find her Christmas present. Another I made to play with the API I build at work. I wrote it so I could ask it things like "What’s the news for today?" and "How many coins do I have?" This is all just rudimentary chat bot stuff, but it’s nice that it’s voice-driven, and in the home.

For those who don't know, I've also been working on a project to improve the quality of our debates online. Called alternately The Wikipedia for Debates, or Project Gruff (and we're working on a broader name for the working group right now), the idea is to deconstruct debates into their most basic arguments. Rather than dealing with long-form articles that provide a long narrative from the perspective of one side or another, the objective is to discuss the points item-by-item, so that complete attention can be given to each detail.

The result is a surprisingly readable and quick-to-grasp overview of any single claim. The nice part is that these simple arguments can actually be vetted by experts and knowledgeable people, with no stones left unturned.

What just occurred to me is that our canonical debate format is excellent for this kind of interface.

Imagine this:

Me: Alexa, ask Gruff if Donald Trump colluded with the Russians
(Alexa does a search on the Context Elements “Donald Trump”, “collude” and “the Russians”)
Alexa: I’ve found 3 debates matching "Donald Trump", "collude", and "the Russians". Would you like to hear them?
Me: Yes
Alexa: 1: “Did the Donald Trump campaign collude with the Russian government in the 2016 election?”
2: “Did Jared Kushner collude with the Russians to help Donald Trump with the 2016 election?”
3 : “Is Donald Trump still colluding with the Russians as President of the United States?”
Which would you like to hear?
Me: 1
Alexa: Ok. Did the Donald Trump campaign collude with the Russian government in the 2016 election?
The strongest arguments in favor are:
Jared Kushner set up a meeting in Trump Tower with people connected to the Kremlin in order to discuss collaboration. Popular Acceptance: 50%
… (etc.)
The strongest arguments against are:

Me: Set my vote to 70% on the first supporting argument.
Alexa: Ok. Would you like to hear the total score based on your votes?
Me: Not now. What are the top arguments for the first argument against this debate?

…. (etc.)

I made this example pretty stiff and non-conversational, because I know what it’s like to write a chat bot for Alexa. With some hard work, it could definitely be smoother. The main point is that it would be possible to examine a debate (even something in recent events) in a somewhat conversational manner, given how structured we have made things.

If you'd like to get involved with the tinkerings we are undertaking as part of Project Gruff (or the Canonical Debate Labs, or whatever name we come up with), you can start by joining our Slack team, or just drop me a note. There's no end to the things we can do (nor to the things that need to be done)!

Founder of The Canonical Debate Lab

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