A POKER-PLAYING ROBOT GOES TO WORK FOR THE PENTAGON
IN 2017, A poker bot called Libratus made headlines when it roundly defeated four top human players at no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em. Now, Libratus’ technology is being adapted to take on opponents of a different kind—in service of the US military.
Libratus—Latin for balanced—was created by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University to test ideas for automated decisionmaking based on game theory. Early last year, the professor who led the project, Tuomas Sandholm, founded a startup called Strategy Robot to adapt his lab’s game-playing technology for government use, such as in war games and simulations used to explore military strategy and planning. Late in August, public records show, the company received a two-year contract of up to $10 million with the US Army. It is described as “in support of” a Pentagon agency called the Defense Innovation Unit, created in 2015 to woo Silicon Valley and speed US military adoption of new technology.
Libratus’ defeat of poker pros in 2017 was seen as a milestone in AI because the card game has complex features lacking in the board games most prominently mastered by computers. In chess and Go, every piece is exposed for both players to see, making them what are called perfect information games. In poker, not all cards are visible, meaning that—as in many real-life scenarios—some information needed to calculate the true state of play is unknown.