Forget Jeopardy, Here's How You'll Know When The Human Race Is Really Doomed

Phil LaakPoker pro Phil Laak sweats against a computer

Photo: University of Alberta

So IBM’s experimental trivia-playing computer “Watson” did pretty well on Jeopardy last night, tying one competitor, and besting the famous Ken Jennings.For the engineers behind the computer it was an enormous achievement, and it probably won’t be too long before it totally dominates all human competitors.

Trivia will be just like chess, where the top-ranked humans are just no match for the top-ranked computers anymore.

Still, there’s hope for the human race, and that’s in poker.

Right now the state of artificial intelligence, poker-playing bots is still in its early stages.

The most high-profile man-vs-machine competitions have been limit Texas Hold-Em played heads up. That’s a pretty straightforward, calculable game, and the humans have been fairly well-matched with the computers.

When we’ll be terrified is when a poker-playing robot can get in there in a full-ring, 9-person game of No-Limit Texas Hold ’em and clean out the pros. Winning that game requires calculation, and intuition, pattern recognition, and an emotional intelligence component that’s going to be hard as hell to program.

Even Nassim Taleb — who detests the use of gambling analogies to explain markets or real life — has admitted that poker is a close approximation to reality. He wrote the foreword (.pdf) to Aaron Brown’s excellent book The Poker Face Of Wall Street.

So when some poker playing computer named “Doc” or “Slim” or something like that beats out the humans, then we’ll know it’s all over, and humans can bow down to their new robot masters.

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