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The AI that breaks the Turing barrier might be a gambler: poker-playing 'bots are gambling online. For new technology to expand, there has to be a moneymaking reason. Up until now, there's been nothing that a person can't do that required a person-imitating machine...well, until online gambling.

In all industries, there has to be a good reason to replace a person with a computer or machine; robots have moved into hazardous and low-error-tolerance businesses, computers do big-math accounting and repetitive menial tasks. However, they can't replace jobs that require a human's unique talents: judges, police, teachers (no matter how tantilizing the idea is in Sci-Fi). Robots even replace eBay buyers: 'sniper software' removes a person's presence at the time an auction closes.

This is because at eBay, from a server's standpoint, the only things that place bids are computer programs. I don't place eBay bids: I fill in browser blanks, which inform eBay of my bid. A computer can be programmed to do the exact same thing at any time: online investment sites provide these programs. There's even a commercial for Ameritrade about a dead guy who, technically, is still trading stocks -- his grieving family logs on to his account to see his porfolio, which displays active trades as they watch. Well, it's not him trading, exactly, but a 'bot that he assigned criteria, by which is analyzes stock reports day and night, and acts in a way the programmer wishes it to. Online investment sites are looked down upon if they can't provide this service. If a computer can get people the things they want without requiring extra effort on the person's part, then software will be assigned complete responsibility without hesitation.

I'll be honest, it never crossed my mind that online gambling would be a venue for AI, but now I'm kicking myself for not having thought of it. Rain Man counted cards like a computer -- why not have a COMPUTER count cards like a computer? However, there's no sense in pitting a computer against a blackjack, for instance. Two computers can only compete against each other, to a point; after which, it's two related systems reacting to feedback. Blackjack favors the house, so there's no chance for really winning. Roulette, one-armed-bandits, craps...if both sides are computer generated, unless there's a loophole or exploit, nothing significant will happen.

Poker, on the other hand, is merely server-supervised. The pot isn't designed by the casino's servers, nor are the competitor's actions. If we can program a computer to beat chess masters, a poker game with significantly less play-moves and no cut-and-dried 'win' should be simpler: you don't need to have all the aces, you just have to be better than the other hands at the table. You don't need to take every pot; you just need to take in more than you're betting out. A bot, equipped with superhuman ability to calculate odds, has a significant edge on the competition. How do you bluff a computer?

Well, chatting will blow the computer's bluff. While a computer can play poker like a pro, it can't talk across the table like a pro. The other players will quickly catch on that the super-silent opponent who wins all the time probably isn't a real person. Accounts get deleted that way. Money is lost that way. Opponents are wary of betting if they think a computer has been programmed to take it away from them without giving them a fighting chance.

So, now we have something computers can do better at than a human, but a Holy Grail of technology is needed...Artificial Intelligence. Winning an odds-based game is a matter of mathematic probability (it can be taught to a spam filter) -- but an advantage can be gained from talking to the opponents, gauging their mindset. An advantage can be gained by lying to the opponents, projecting either an air of hopelessness or certain success. A bot, however, can't succeed at reading players or lying to players if they're not as convincing as a human sitting across the table. If a simple bot today, programmed to reduce risk of exposing itself and to keep winnings to an unsuspicious level, is profitable to both the software customer and the software company -- getting everyone what they want, without significant effort on the people's time -- the house busts and everybody wins, so to speak.

Well, the house won't like that much -- but the better that bots get at beating Turing tests (that, no doubt, will become harder for certain humans to pass, if designed to catch 'bots), there's no doubt that, someday, an online poker table will be occupied by 5 different bots, by 5 different makers, each with a specialized set of instructions tuned by their owners, competing for real money. Once a computer beats the Turing test, who's to say it'll want to play poker anymore?

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