Poker bots raise the stakes for human players

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A DOZEN men wearing dark green T-shirts and wide grins whoop, shake hands and high-five, while another group in navy blue baseball caps do their best to look magnanimous in defeat in front of several dozen onlookers. In most respects this was a low-key event, but the scene, at a nondescript booth of a Las Vegas convention centre in July this year, may to be a pivotal moment for the development of artificial intelligence. That's because at the Gaming Life Expo at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, a computer program called Polaris became the first to beat a team of world-class poker players, each of whom had previously won more than $1 million. Some may see the victory as the latest dismal step in silicon's march towards superiority over humans. Others will view it as an exciting move forward in artificial intelligence – a foretaste of the sophisticated tasks computers should be able to perform for us in years to come.

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