The Rise of the Machines

22nd Mar 2017


We’ve all seen the movies and read the books where machines become smarter than man, and try to take over the world – but the artificial intelligence revolution is actually starting, for real. In January 2017 something positively spine-chilling happened, when a supercomputer called Libratus thrashed an array of top poker professionals.

The scene of the potentially epoch launching poker tournament was Pennsylvania, and the human challengers were Dong Kim, Jason Les, Daniel McAulay, and Jimmy Chou. 120,000 hands were played over 20 days, and the organisers went to great lengths to remove any effect of card luck. The human players were split into two sub-teams of two players each, with one team playing in a regular room, and the other in an electronics-free room referred to as ‘The Dungeon.’ Both teams got the same sequence of cards, with the team in ‘The Dungeon’ getting the cards that the computer got in the regular room, and vice versa.

So, what happened? Well, Libratus led from the get-go. The human players were totally out-classed in every aspect, with Dong Kim saying “I didn’t realize how good it was until today. I felt like I was playing against someone who was cheating, like it could see my cards. I’m not accusing it of cheating. It was just that good.” By the 16th day, the machine had smashed the $1,000,000 mark, and by the end of that that, was ahead by a tidy $1,194,402 worth of chips. When the tournament ended, the computer was leading by $1,766,250 worth of chips. For the matches there had been a big blind of $100, which means the computer’s win rate was 14.7 big blinds per 100 hands!

At the end of the tournament Libratus even went as far as setting up its own Twitter account and Tweeting: “Have no fear. At Carnegie Mellon Poker, we keep player funds segregated. There’s money that’s ours. And money that will eventually be ours.” There was, however, some consolation for the downtrodden humans, because they got to share the prize money of $200,000 between them – Libratus getting zilch. Which was probably just as well, because we can imagine it using any winnings as the seed funds to set-up a robot production line and, well, you can see where that might go – Skynet anyone?

Enjoy your poker now, before the machines take over…