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Volume 591 Issue 7850, 18 March 2021

The silicon soapbox

Argument and debate are fundamental capabilities of human intelligence. In this week’s issue, Noam Slonim and his colleagues describe results from Project Debater, an artificial intelligence system that can engage in competitive debates with humans. The system can scan through an archive of 400 million newspaper articles to form opening statements and counter-arguments. The researchers tested their system over a range of topics, comparing it to various baselines as well as to human expert debaters. Although human experts still have the edge, Project Debater received high marks in its debates from a virtual audience of people, and the team says the results show that AI has the potential to participate in complex human activities.

Cover image: Yijia Xie.

This Week

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    • A fully autonomous computer system has been developed that can take part in live debates with people. The findings hint at a future in which artificial intelligence can help humans to formulate and make sense of complex arguments.

      • Chris Reed
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    • Symbiotic interactions between organisms have aided major evolutionary transitions. The interaction between two microorganisms has parallels with the evolution of mitochondria — key organelles in eukaryotic cells.

      • William H. Lewis
      • Thijs J. G. Ettema
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    • Tectonic-plate material is generally thought to be neither created nor destroyed at plate boundaries called oceanic transform faults. An analysis of sea-floor topography suggests that this assumption is incorrect.

      • Garrett Ito
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  • Articles

    • An artificial intelligence system that can engage in a competitive debate with humans is presented.

      • Noam Slonim
      • Yonatan Bilu
      • Ranit Aharonov
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      • Andrés M. Cisneros-Montemayor
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      • Yoshitaka Ota
    • Growth series of Palaeozoic stem lampreys do not include a filter-feeding larval phase seen in modern lampreys, which suggests that modern lamprey larvae are a poor model of vertebrate ancestry.

      • Tetsuto Miyashita
      • Robert W. Gess
      • Michael I. Coates
    • Genome-wide data from 166 East Asian individuals dating to between 6000 bc and ad 1000 and from 46 present-day groups provide insights into the histories of mixture and migration of human populations in East Asia.

      • Chuan-Chao Wang
      • Hui-Yuan Yeh
      • David Reich
    • Simultaneous mapping of activity across the cortex and dorsal striatum in mice shows that activity in each part of the striatum precisely mirrors that in topographically associated cortical regions, consistently across behavioural contexts.

      • Andrew J. Peters
      • Julie M. J. Fabre
      • Matteo Carandini
    • A dopamine neuron that underpins transient forgetting in Drosophila is activated by the presentation of interfering stimuli immediately before memory retrieval, modulating this retrieval by stimulating a dopamine receptor in mushroom body neurons.

      • John Martin Sabandal
      • Jacob A. Berry
      • Ronald L. Davis
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      • Jon S. Graf
      • Sina Schorn
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      • Angela Wahl
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      • Subir Biswas
      • Gunjan Mandal
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      • Beth Kelly
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    • A modular de novo designed biosensor platform consisting of a cage and key molecule is developed, and used to create sensors for seven distinct proteins including the spike protein from SARS-CoV-2 and anti-SARS antibodies.

      • Alfredo Quijano-Rubio
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Amendments & Corrections

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Nature Index

  • Sustainability, climate change and biomedical science are key areas for future research prowess in Asia Pacific.

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