For most gamers, the concept of AI is a welcome one that refers to computer-programmed characters, teammates, etc. within games. For example, automated opponents and allies in console shooter games demonstrate AI when they react to your actions or follow your commands, and teammates in FIFA and NBA 2k games play along with you according to carefully designed intelligence programs. But increasingly, the concept of AI in gaming is being turned from a complementary feature into something that could challenge gamers in more competitive forums.
Headlining this transition is Claudico, a poker-playing AI bot designed by Carnegie Melon researchers to master the art of Texas Hold’em. This is not the first bot designed to play poker. However, it’s the most advanced one yet to make waves specifically in no-limit Hold’em, a type of poker with a particularly high number of variables in terms of player moves, hand possibilities, and betting options. In other words, Claudico isn’t the first poker bot, but because of the game it was designed to master, it may be the most advanced.
The bot got a detailed write-up in Sci-Tech Today after it was pitted against professional poker players in a tournament at a casino this past May. According to the article, Claudico was not taught any sort of detailed strategies regarding Hold’em poker, but it was instead simply given the rules and directed to play games against itself until it could theoretically master, or learn to recognise, just about any situation. The results were mixed, as Claudico naturally demonstrated some features—a lack of fatigue, for example, and a relentless ability to play the game, and not the opposing players—that frustrated its live opponents. However, at the end of the tournament, the human professionals actually came out with a significant edge in winnings.
Still, the idea of a masterful poker bot competing with humans in a game with actual money on the line will be somewhat disconcerting to gamers—particularly those who play online. After all, who’s to say that a poker player logging in to an online site to play against opponents on the web might not unwittingly be up against a mastermind AI?
At some high volume poker sites there are features in place to reassure gamers that this will not be the case. Betfair Poker caters to a very large base of European players and includes chatting features in its live tournaments, in which players can actually speak to one another despite playing online. This sort of feature allows at least a type of human interaction in which it would presumably be easy to spot a bot. Playing at Betfair, you can discuss individual hands and scenarios or, if you were particularly suspicious that an AI might be beating you, ask questions unrelated to the games to try to generate a uniquely human conversation. Similarly, some online poker sites will allow you to view playing histories and profiles of opposing players. Features like these are difficult to fake for a master AI, because even a fake profile would presumably demonstrate suspicious winnings or playing records.
And yet the idea of AI skewing gaming in online environments is something that gamers will have to be increasingly aware of. While an advanced poker bot like Claudico is cutting edge, and the average online gamer is not yet capable of designing or utilising such a sophisticated program, hacking and gaming manipulation are potential concerns for people who play games competitively.
Last year, PC Gamer wrote up a fascinating article investigating what it called “the million-dollar business of video game cheating.” It looked into the idea of selling hacks and cheats for video games, without even touching much on the potential use of cheats in competitive gaming environments.
More recently, Business Insider profiled an industrious hacker’s amusing but possibly eye-opening hack of the popular app game Trivia Crack, after which he supplied users with a tool for beating the app every time. Neither the sale of game cheats nor the hacking of a free-to-play, non-competitive app represents any actual harm done for gamers. However, they do provide simpler ways in which algorithms, hacks, and potentially AI can be used to give gamers advantages. It’s certainly something to be aware of if you do play your video games in competitive environments, particularly with money on the line.