Based in San Francisco, Marina Krakovsky is the author of The Middleman Economy: How Brokers, Agents, Dealers, and Everyday Matchmakers Create Value and Profit (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). Permission to make digital or hard copies of part or all of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and full citation on the first page. Copyright for components of this work owned by others than ACM must be honored. Abstracting with credit is permitted. To copy otherwise, to republish, to post on servers, or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or fee. Request permission to publish from email@example.com or fax (212) 869-0481. The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery.
It is no mystery why poker is such a popular pastime: the dynamic card game produces drama in spades as players are locked in a complicated tango of acting and reacting that becomes increasingly tense with each escalating bet. The same elements that make poker so entertaining have also created a complex problem for artificial intelligence (AI). A study published today in Science describes an AI system called DeepStack that recently defeated professional human players in heads-up, no-limit Texas hold'em poker, an achievement that represents a leap forward in the types of problems AI systems can solve. DeepStack, developed by researchers at the University of Alberta, relies on the use of artificial neural networks that researchers trained ahead of time to develop poker intuition. During play, DeepStack uses its poker smarts to break down a complicated game into smaller, more manageable pieces that it can then work through on the fly.
Machines are finally getting the best of humans at poker. Two artificial intelligence (AI) programs have finally proven they "know when to hold'em, and when to fold'em," recently beating human professional card players for the first time at the popular poker game of Texas Hold'em. And this week the team behind one of those AIs, known as DeepStack, has divulged some of the secrets to its success--a triumph that could one day lead to AIs that perform tasks ranging from from beefing up airline security to simplifying business negotiations. AIs have long dominated games such as chess, and last year one conquered Go, but they have made relatively lousy poker players. In DeepStack researchers have broken their poker losing streak by combining new algorithms and deep machine learning, a form of computer science that in some ways mimics the human brain, allowing machines to teach themselves.
The recent win of AlphaGo over Lee Sedol--one of the world's highest ranked Go players--has resurfaced concerns about artificial intelligence. We have heard about A.I. stealing jobs, killer robots, algorithms that help diagnose and cure cancer, competent self-driving cars, perfect poker players, and more. It seems that for every mention of A.I. as humanity's top existential risk, there is a mention of its power to solve humanity's biggest challenges. Demis Hassabis--founder of Google DeepMind, the company behind AlphaGo--views A.I. as "potentially a meta-solution to any problem," and Eric Horvitz--director of research at Microsoft's Redmond, Washington, lab--claims that "A.I. will be incredibly empowering to humanity." By contrast, Bill Gates has called A.I. "a huge challenge" and something to "worry about," and Stephen Hawking has warned about A.I. ending humanity.
In March of last year, Google's (Menlo Park, California) artificial intelligence (AI) computer program AlphaGo beat the best Go player in the world, 18-time champion Lee Se-dol, in a tournament, winning 4 of 5 games.1 At first glance this news would seem of little interest to a pathologist, or to anyone else for that matter. After all, many will remember that IBM's (Armonk, New York) computer program Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov--at the time the greatest chess player in the world--and that was 19 years ago. The rules of the several-thousand-year-old game of Go are extremely simple. The board consists of 19 horizontal and 19 vertical black lines.