The Great Debate in Retrospect: Is Artificial Intelligence Better than the Real Thing? 

by | Jun 14, 2024 | Culture Vulture, Entertainment, Humans, Off Campus, Western Sydney

I recently had the honor of attending the ‘SWF Great Debate’ at Town Hall, on behalf of W’SUP News, one of the many incredible events organised as part of the 2024 Sydney Writers Festival events on May 23rd . The topic for this year’s debate, “Artificial Intelligence Is Better Than the Real Thing,” intrigued me as it sounded more like a statement than a debate question.

SWF Great Debate: Artificial Intelligence Is Better Than the Real Thing (Credit – Raynesh Charan)

The debate featured two sides: affirmative and negative, both comprising respected team members. Team Affirmative included Annabel Crabb, ABC’s chief online political writer; Matilda Boseley, a social media reporter and presenter; and Professor Toby Walsh, Chief Scientist at UNSW’s Artificial Intelligence department. Team Negative consisted of David Marr, a progressive journalist and author; Tracy Spicer, a journalist and social justice advocate; and Rhys Nicholson, a comedian and actor.

Each member brought incredible energy to the stage, maintaining a lively atmosphere with relevant references, timely jokes, and excellent crowd management skills. The session had significant entertainment value—unlike any debate I had attended before. This emphasis on performance, however, did not detract from the debate’s core arguments.  

(Left to Right) Team Affirmative: Rhys Nicholson, Tracy Spicer & David Marr. Team Negative: Annabel Crabb, Matilda Boseley & Toby Walsh (Credit – Raynesh Charan) 

The Affirmative team started strong and relied on the tactical advantages of using AI by pointing out that artificial intelligence is cheaper, more available, and more accurate than human intelligence. They argued that AI can handle the boring tasks humans don’t want to do. The affirmative team further supported their argument by highlighting the relative youth of AI technologies, suggesting that most of its issues will be resolved as the technology matures. Choosing to back up these claims by presenting a long list of scientific breakthroughs, including solving the ‘protein folding problem,’ a complex scenario that biologists had struggled with for decades Overall, they provided compelling arguments highlighting AI’s potential to revolutionise various fields through efficiency and innovation.  

Conversely, Team Negative emphasized the lack of humanness in AI. They argued that works produced by AI are soulless and unrelatable to humans and highlighted the legal and ethical concerns regarding the databases on which AI is trained. Specifically, issues of intellectual theft and the unconscious bias inherent in all AI models, which in extreme cases have led to AI bots becoming holocaust deniers and blatantly racist, were addressed. 

Each argument presented had merit, but a key point was presented by Matilda Boseley from Team Affirmative. She acknowledged how the context of this debate being at the SWF would automatically bias the audience towards Team Negative. She stated that humans are fundamentally egotistical and claimed that an inherent reason we dislike AI is that, deep down, we know it has the potential to fully replace us, and we are only delaying the inevitable.  

In Team Negative’s concluding statement leader, David Marr, jokingly called Team Affirmative ‘good sports’ for taking on the losing side, a sentiment confirmed by the loud applause from the audience. This moment, however, seemed to undermine the strides made by Team Affirmative and highlighted the mixed feelings about AI’s role in society. 

Artificial Intelligence is still a relatively new technology, and current uncertainties are expected to be addressed over time. Ultimately, the extent of AI’s integration will depend on the individuals who legislate its use, and, as the Great Debate illustrated, these decisions will likely be influenced by personal biases.  

The answer to ‘Is Artificial Intelligence better than the real thing? Is that it depends on who you’re asking. 

W’SUP news would like to thank the Sydney Writer’s Festival team for providing the opportunity to attend events media personnel and for hosting such incredible sessions. We hope to continue collaborating in the future and bring these important conversations to Western Sydney University. 

Shabnam Siddique

Shabnam Siddique is a poet, writer and mixed-media artist. Her work often has a poetic-style and portrays self-reflection, conversations about emotions, human experiences and little things in life.

Shabnam is currently following her Masters degree in psychotherapy and counselling at Western Sydney University and is in her final year of training to be a therapist.

She is also finalizing the manuscript of her debut poetry collection.

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