Why the mainstream media care about AI & poker

Barry Carter explains why the Libratus vs poker pros matches this month are a bigger story for the tech industry than for poker.

Libratus poker
The humans are likely to lose to Libratus

I wrote earlier this week about why I felt the humans (probably) losing to Artificial Intelligence robot Libratus wasn’t going to change the game too much. I also mentioned the scientific community and media have a much more vested interest in this match than poker does, which I wanted to elaborate on today.

The reason why Libratus beating the professionals is a big deal outside of poker is because the AI has had to develop ‘general intelligence’ in order to pull off this feat. Chess is by no means an easier game than poker but it requires a narrower, more focussed skillset than poker does, which means that the AI needed to beat the best chess players can be relatively formulaic.

General intelligence

robot poker
Is this a game changer?

Poker by comparison has so many more factors to consider. Most notably because it is a game of incomplete information where we don’t know what our opponent is holding nor do we know which card will be turned over next. There are vastly more things that can happen in poker and a poker AI has to factor in risk/reward decisions, not to mention the significant psychological component. General intelligence is the ability to think reflexively across a number of domains.

You only need to look at how many different ways there are to be a winning player in poker to see how broad the skill set really is. We have the mathematical genius who is striving to make GTO decisions and at the other end of the spectrum we have old school ‘feel’ players like Phil Ivey who can make a decision based on the way you wriggle your nose when you bet. People from all walks of life have thrived in poker from computer scientists, chess masters, traders, gamers, athletes, actors and everything in-between.

I think most of us who have been around poker for a long time can agree that the game really does teach you a rich tapestry of lessons which you can use in other aspects of your life. Poker has helped me get better at financial planning, reading people and dealing with adversity, for many shy people it has helped them develop their social skills, and much much more. So most of us would agree it is a game of ‘general intelligence’.

We can no longer control technology

So why is this such a big story in the wider media? Because developing general intelligence in machines sets us on a path where we can no longer predict or control where technology is going. It gives AI the ability to learn to learn, self-replicate and develop a level of intelligence that we currently cannot even begin to fathom.  

This leaves us in a serious existential crisis because we are potentially creating an intelligence that knows no bounds, which would be going in a direction we cannot predict. Many very intelligent people think that this could lead to the AI acting against the best interest of humanity, and in the worst case ending life on earth altogether, just like in the Matrix or the Terminator. I highly recommend you watch the presentation from Sam Harris below for an idea what some of the greatest minds we have think about the prospect of AI:

Which is a very depressing thought to express on a website that is all about having fun playing the game of poker. For those of you worried about the prospects for humanity, you can take some solace in the words of Stanford AI expert Fei-Fei Li, who believes we are still nearer to the washing machine than we are the Terminator.

It’s a strange paradox that what could ultimately be a small story for poker might ultimately be a big story for the rest of the world (especially because any mention of poker in the mainstream media is usually a big deal for us). Hopefully the AIs will ultimately enjoy grinding Zoom poker so much they decide to dedicate their entire time to that, rather than enslaving humanity altogether.

Are you concerned about Artificial Intelligence outside of poker? Let us know in the comments:

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Comments (10)

newest first
  • viktor1941


    nice article
  • AlvisR


    Libratus vs Doug Polk
  • BarryCarter


    #1 - thanks
    #2 - yes, has to happen IMO
  • GingerKid


    Nice article. Barry have you watched Westworld?
  • BarryCarter


    # 4 yes my favourite show of the last 12 months, loved it.

    Humans is really good too (Swedish show which was remade in the UK)

    I liked Ex Machina too

    So all of them really
  • jmm88


    I don't think we have to worry right know, about this technology been used in the poker sites, to kill the game. its have to be a super computer, and not too many people have access to those computers.
  • mbshowmedamoney


    cool article
  • acank18


    Nice article


  • d0ublesoul


    Interesting article. I'm curious where the progress on AI will lead to..