Last week a team of poker players in China were resoundingly defeated by "Lengpudashi". Meaning "cold poker master", Lengpudashi is the new, even more improved version of the Libratus AI (Artificial Intelligence) programme that I wrote about back in January. Not surprisingly, this latest AI victory has been big news: people have worried for years that robots equipped with AI will take over human jobs. Now not even poker is safe. Though computer programmes long ago proved their superiority in the classic skill game of chess, until now the bluffing and intuitive elements of poker – its very human elements – had made it hard for a machine to master.
Despite an explosion of interest in the game -- due in large part to televised tournaments that allow viewers to see who is holding what cards -- participation by women is still low. Seedy, smoke-filled card clubs have been replaced by shiny, glamorous, smoke-free poker rooms, but it's still a mostly male arena. Poker is littered with aggressive or masculine terms such as "firing at the pot," "flopping the nuts," "I fired a bullet," "folded a pair of bitches (queens)," and others. At the end of tournaments, erotically dressed women carry out the cash and dump it on the table, bending over oh-so-slightly to suggest they could be part of the prize.
There's a term in poker called tilt--when players become overwhelmed by bad news and it starts clouding their decision-making. Poker star Annie Duke talks to guest host Maria Konnikova about the psychological tricks that pro card players use to get through rough patches and how it applies to our political climate today. Duke has written several books about poker and sits on the board of How I Decide, a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged young people make better decisions.
I was one of those who said it could never be done: that a computer wouldn't ever manage to beat the best at the game of poker. I was romantic and wide-eyed at 18, when my heroes were the cowboys from Texas who ruled the felt. They were uneducated and coarse, yet chock full of the human qualities needed to excel at poker. With nicknames like Amarillo Slim and Texas Dolly, these larger-than-life characters had fearlessness, aptitude, and a deep understanding of what makes people tick. The higher the stakes, the better they played.
Poker appears to be the latest intellectual battle between humanity and AI, and currently, a bot named Libratus, developed by the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science, is beating humanity. A team of professional poker players are competing against Libratus at the Brains Vs. Artificial Intelligence competition held at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, running through January 31st, 2017. As of January 26, with 80% of the 120,000 hands dealt, Libratus is ahead by over $1,000,000. Note: No money actually changes hands in this tournament.