We wanted a low-anxiety tool to boost our public speaking skills. With an ever-accelerating shift of communication away from face-to-face and towards pretty much just memes, it's becoming difficult for younger generations to express themselves or articulate an argument without a screen as a proxy.

What does it do?

DebateABot is a web-app that allows the user to pick a topic and make their point, while arguing against our chat bot.

How did we build it?

Our website is boot-strapped with Javascript/JQuery and HTML5. The user can talk to our web app which used NLP to convert speech to text, and sends the text to our server, which was built with PHP and background written in python. We perform key-word matching and search result ranking using the indico API, after which we run Sentiment Analysis on the text. The counter-argument, as a string, is sent back to the web app and is read aloud to the user using the Mozilla Web Speech API

Some challenges we ran into

First off, trying to use the Watson APIs and the Azure APIs lead to a lot of initial difficulties trying to get set up and get access. Early on we also wanted to use our Amazon Echo that we have, but reached a point where it wasn't realistic to use AWS and Alexa skills for what we wanted to do. A common theme amongst other challenges has simply been sleep deprivation; staying up past 3am is a sure-fire way to exponentiate your rate of errors and bugs. The last significant difficulty is the bane of most software projects, and ours is no exception- integration.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

The first time that we got our voice input to print out on the screen, in our own program, was a big moment. We also kicked ass as a team! This was the first hackathon EVER for two of our team members, and everyone had a role to play, and was able to be fully involved in developing our hack. Also, we just had a lot of fun together. Spirits were kept high throughout the 36 hours, and we lasted a whole day before swearing at our chat bot. To our surprise, instead of echoing out our exclaimed profanity, the Web Speech API read aloud "eff-asterix-asterix-asterix you, chat bot!" It took 5 minutes of straight laughing before we could get back to work.

What we learned

The Mozilla Web Speech API does not swear! So don't get any ideas when you're talking to our innocent chat bot...

What's next for DebateABot?

While DebateABot isn't likely to evolve into the singularity, it definitely has the potential to become a lot smarter. The immediate next step is to port the project over to be usable with Amazon Echo or Google Home, which eliminates the need for a screen, making the conversation more realistic. After that, it's a question of taking DebateABot and applying it to something important to YOU. Whether that's a way to practice for a Model UN or practice your thesis defence, it's just a matter of collecting more data.

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