Science-fiction novels and films of the not-too-distant past are littered with references to the potential of artificial intelligence, and the consequences for us mere human beings. Well, it seems the real-life consequences now extend to the world of casino gaming.
The latest high-stakes contest of man versus machine was recently decided in the poker room of an American casino – and the result was ultimately conclusive. The AI program developed by a professor at Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science, nicknamed Libratus, was pitted against a team of professional poker players at the Brains vs. Artificial Intelligence event at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.
This was no ordinary game of poker, mind you; four poker professionals took turns to play over 100,000 hands against Libratus, over the course of a 20-day marathon. By the end, Libratus had accumulated an unassailable lead of $800k (£620k). Experts say this is a turning point for artificial intelligence, with Texas Hold’em being the ultimate game to test the algorithms of a computer program.
Man vs. Machine – A brief history
Of course, Libratus isn’t the first AI program to have its wits tested against human opponents. Computer scientists have been programming chess bots since the 1960s, though it was only when Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in 1996 that the first major computer victory against a world-class professional was recorded under the conditions of a competition – though was it a glitch?
Since then, a whole array of games has been AI-tested: Othello, checkers, chess, Go, Jeopardy, to name a small handful. All of these games have eventually proved successful for artificially intelligent programs, which left Texas Hold’em as the one glaring game left still to solve. Not anymore, it seems!
What Does This Spell for the Future?
After this decisive breakthrough in the world of online poker, it begs the question as to where artificial intelligence will go next, and which nut the computer programmers at Carnegie Mellon will pour their efforts into cracking.
Now that the tournament has reached an end, the developer of Libratus, Tuomas Sandholm, is more than happy to share the ins and outs of how he achieved such a remarkable feat. In addition to a speaking slot at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence earlier this month, he also plans to submit a series of research papers to peer-reviewed scientific conferences and journals.
Will It Lead to Cheating?
Outside of academic achievement, it’s fair to say that news of Libratus’ victory is likely to have piqued the interest of many online poker players, particularly those who are inclined to look for ways to play unfairly.
The prospect of a computer program that can defeat the world’s best players being replicated by online card sharks could have a huge impact on the online game in years to come. It feels much the same as competitive chess, which is now rarely seen played online for prize money because of the widespread usage of AI programs.
Okay, so while the average Joe Bloggs probably won’t have access to the same level of PC power needed to switch Libratus on right now, in future this technology is likely going to become more widely available, just as we’ve seen with chess programs.
All things considered, Libratus definitely marks a distinct breakthrough for the evolution of AI; let’s just hope it doesn’t mean the demise of online poker as we know it.