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16.12 2 Jun 2015


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While a contestant crashing out of a poker tournament isn’t normally headline news, a recent competition held in the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has left the world of artificial intelligence feeling flush.

Claudico, a computer programme developed at a US university, held its own against a number of human beings, managing the tricky art of outfoxing one of the world’s top card sharks, but losing out to three others. But even though Claudico’s chips were ultimately down, this is being regarded as a huge breakthrough for AI.

Created by Tuomas Sandholm of Carnegie Mellon University, the programme was designed to work out by itself the best poker strategy to gain the upper hand over its human opponents. An immense amont of computer power was required to process Claudico’s reading of the game, with every bluff and raise made in the 80,000-hand competition using a Blacklight supercomputer with 16 terabytes of RAM – the equivalent of 8,000 tablet devices.

The reasoning behind Claudico’s creation was to see how well an artificial intelligence could cope with the shifting game of poker.

Previously, one of the most significant developments in AI history was IBM’s chess-playing Deep Blue beating the then world-champion player Garry Kasparov in 1997. Poker is considered a more trying test of an AI’s ability to process and plan, as the card game incorporates real-world events and unpredictable factors like human decision making and a lack of information about the hands held by opponents.

Professional player Doug Polk challenges Claudico [Carnegie Mellon]

“Poker is now a benchmark for artificial-intelligence research, just as chess once was,” Tuomas Sandholm said in an interview with LiveScience. “. It's a game of exceeding complexity that requires a machine to make decisions based on incomplete and often misleading information, thanks to bluffing, slow play and other decoys."

When the final hands were being played at the Rivers Casino tournament last month, the human players had won more chips than their AI opponent, though the gap between the two was narrow enough for Claudico’s pride, artificial or otherwise, to be relatively intact. And many experts in the field of AI claim that computer programmes are catching up with their human counterparts very quickly, and will soon surpass them.

Tuomas Sandholm said on the topic, "I am guessing [a poker-playing AI] will be stronger than the best humans in the world in one to five years."

The applications of artificial-intelligence systems like Claudico are endless, from online transactions to cyber-security. AI systems are currently being used by motor companies to develop self-driving vehicles and other mechanical devices.

By Dylan Grimes Larkin


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