Pittsburgh researchers are hailing a milestone moment in artificial intelligence, with Carnegie Mellon University’s Libratus program defeating four of the world’s best human poker players in a 20-day poker marathon.

Following 120,000 hands of Heads-up, No-Limit Texas Hold’em at the ‘Brains Vs. Artificial Intelligence: Upping the Ante’ event at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, Libratus, an artificial intelligence developed by Carnegie Mellon University, led the pros by a collective $1,766,250 in chips.

Pittsburgh is fast establishing itself as a tech hub, thanks in large part to Carnegie Mellon University’s leading work in computer science, robotics, and, specifically, machine learning; a subfield of computer science that evolved from the study of pattern recognition and computational learning theory in artificial intelligence, that is, learning without needing to be explicitly programmed. This core of knowledge has already attracted major players like Uber, General Motors, Google and Apple, making the city a centre for auto-automation research and development.

The developers of Libratus — Tuomas Sandholm, professor of computer science, and Noam Brown, a Ph.D. student in computer science — said the poker victory is statistically significant: “The best AI’s ability to do strategic reasoning with imperfect information has now surpassed that of the best humans,” Sandholm said.

The breakthrough presents exciting possibilities in areas where machines deal with incomplete information and misinformation, such as business negotiation, military strategy, cybersecurity and medical treatment planning.

“The computer can’t win at poker if it can’t bluff,” said Frank Pfenning, head of the Computer Science Department in Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science said. “Developing an AI that can do that successfully is a tremendous step forward scientifically and has numerous applications. Imagine that your smartphone will someday be able to negotiate the best price on a new car for you. That’s just the beginning.”

One of the key features of Libratus’ play that surprised attendees was the ability to improve from day to day. “After play ended each day, a meta-algorithm analyzed what holes the pros had identified and exploited in Libratus’ strategy,” said Sandholm. “It then prioritized the holes and algorithmically patched the top three using the supercomputer each night.”

The AI victory was made possible by Pittsburgh’s access to huge computing power and big data. Libratus was powered by Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center’s Bridges computer, which has a total speed of 1.35 petaflops and 274 terabytes of memory, around 7,250 times as fast and with 17,500 times as much memory as a high-end laptop.

“We designed Bridges to converge high-performance computing and artificial intelligence,” said Nick Nystrom, senior director of research and principal investigator for the National Science Foundation-funded Bridges system. “Libratus’ win is an important milestone toward developing AIs to address complex, real-world problems. At the same time, Bridges is powering new discoveries in the physical sciences, biology, social science, business and even the humanities. With its unique emphasis on usability, new projects are always welcome.”

Sandholm will be speaking about Libratus’ success at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence meeting in San Francisco, February 4-9.


(via Carnegie Mellon University, The Guardian, New Atlas)

Featured image: The ‘Brains Vs. Artificial Intelligence: Upping the Ante’ event (Credit: Carnegie Mellon University)