OPINION: Does AI spell the beginning of the end for online poker?

  • AI technology has cruised to a number of important wins against humans
  • What next for the tech that can think for itself, and learn from its mistakes?

It was inevitable really. The rise of the machines; the decline of humanity. The post-apocalyptic world the automatons would usher in as all our Terminator 2 nightmares became real.

This is the future we chose, but now it’s here we’re not quite so sure that we wanted it after all.

Artificial Intelligence

Excuse the hyperbole, but in case you haven’t noticed, computers have been kicking a lot of butt lately. And not just any old computers. Rather, artificial intelligence machines – aka the most fearsome machines of all.

You needn’t worry about your toaster ganging up with the rest of the household appliances and launching a hostile takeover – this isn’t Stephen King’s “Trucks”. So-called smart appliances aren’t very smart at all as it stands.

Rendering humanity obsolete?

AI is a different beast altogether though, because whereas dumb machines do what their dumb programmers tell them to, AI learns from its mistakes and then comes back stronger, wiser and better equipped to render humanity obsolete.

The rise of AI hasn’t exactly happened overnight, but the first signs that the algorithms were starting to get good arrived last year when Google’s DeepMind AI defeated Lee Sedol, one of the world’s top Go players.

Creating a victorious Go computer has long been the holy grail of AI programmers, for the game is notorious for being fiendishly difficult, with so many possible permutations and moves that brute force computing isn’t practical.

While computers have been able to hold their own on the chessboard for some time, Go was considered to be out of reach of binary systems. In cracking the ancient Chinese board game, DeepMind issued its intent: anything that humans could do, it could do better.

Any lingering doubts about the ability of AI to trump human intelligence were dispelled last month when a computer took on a handful of poker professionals and thoroughly spanked them at no-limit hold ‘em.

What’s the point in playing any more?

Artificial Intelligence

This impressive feat raises many questions, some of which are more existential – will computers render us all redundant in the near future? – and others, while quotidian, are no less worrying. Like, what’s the point in online gaming anymore?

As the mantra goes, on the internet no one can tell that you’re a dog. Replace dog with bot and you’ve pretty much got the state of play today. While bots should not be confused with AI – the former tend to be ‘dumb’, merely mimicking human behaviour, whereas AI seeks to continually evolve and transcend its programming – there is a crossover, with many of the advancements in AI being put towards creating smarter chat bots that can take your pizza order, recommend a movie and, that’s right, play several thousand poker hands on your behalf.

Just as the advent of smartphones rendered pub quizzes obsolete, we may be reaching a stage where the same is about to happen with online poker. Skilled players have been able to earn a living for years, entering sit & go tournaments without needing to get out of bed, let alone leave the house.

Make no mistake though, it’s hard work grinding it out on the poker circuit, and that feat just got exponentially harder now that every newb, skid and chancer could soon be deploying an AI-based program to hustle on their behalf.

No brakes on the technology train

We’ve already witnessed the bizarreness of Twitter bots chatting to other Twitter bots, each trying to pass off as human. Are we on the cusp of online gambling going the same way, with AI taking on AI while their increasingly surfeit human overlords sit on the sidelines, willing their charges on?

There are no brakes on the technology train, and it is impossible to roll things back to a time when life was simpler and artificial intelligence was limited to the imagination of sci-fi writers. Like it or not, AI is here to stay. Just as England’s 19th century cotton mill workers feared industrialisation was going to steal their jobs, there are modern day Luddites who fear that AI and automation are going to wipe out the entire service economy, taking with it millions of jobs.

They may in fact be right, but it’s worth remembering that for every opportunity technology takes away, it creates new ones. Perhaps in the future we will bet on computers taking on computers in poker tournaments, with players competing to see whose algorithm is better. AI could come to dominate eSports, with entire computer armies waging war against their virtual counterparts, while their biological creators trash talk and fist pump from the sidelines.

If the rise of AI sees poker players retreat from the virtual world back into the real world again to meet like-minded souls in their local community and go head-to-head, there are some who would argue that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Now that would be a turn up for the books: we invented AI and in the process rediscovered our humanity.

* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Casinopedia

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