Friday, March 9, 2012

Poker and Artificial Intelligence

Today, I was able to go to a talk by Michael Bowling from the University of Alberta.  He was visiting the University of Denver, and he spoke to a crowd of CS and other science types in Olin Hall. 

He did a good job of explaining how the game of poker can be used in the course of programming artificial intelligence into computing systems.  This paper (Poker as a Testbed for Machine Intelligence Research PDF) from his lab in 1998 covers some of the basics.

He showed a good clip from the movie Rounders, and then he explained some of the basic rules of the game and some of the strategy involved.  (I still can't believe that Matt Damon didn't consider that KGB might have had pocket aces during their initial game in the movie....) Poker is more like real life for a number of reasons.  You have to deal with incomplete knowledge of the game (you can't see the cards dealt to your opponent), and the opponent can try to bluff his or her way out of a jam.  This is not the situation for chess and other types of board games.

Anyway, I learned that it now possible for computers to beat world class professional poker players on a head to head basis.  They programmed the Polaris system to have different personalities, to be agressive or passive or bluff sometimes or whatnot.  The Alberta folk will continue to work on poker games that involve three or more players.  The programming gets a bit more complicated with more players.  Polaris was programmed to work with Texas limit hold'em so that the raises were set at particular levels.  There are just too many raise variables to consider in no limit hold'em, but they could work on this for future projects. 

Other links to check out.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Wrapping my brain around two posts, should we step in the way so we avoid the bullet?

I've got two blog posts to think about, and I am not quite sure how they support each other (or contradict each other) but I find both to be very interesting.

One is "Engineers Crashing Our Gates" which is a follow up of the Tennant post "You Never See the Bullet That Takes You Down" (found via Jason).  Essentially, companies and organizations do not see what hit them.  Did Blockbuster not see NetFlix?  Did the Travel Agent Industry not see the Internet coming?  Does Elsevier not see Open Access and Open Science coming? What of Librarianship?

Then, there is this post from Dave Puplett on "Academics must be applauded for making a stand by boycotting Elsevier. It’s time for librarians to join the conversation on the future of dissemination, but not join the boycott."  He notes in the comments section that "I [Dave] really do think Librarians have a huge role in advocating change in Scholarly Communication – please see a previous post of mine here:, or some of my other work: ....  My point is that if the Academic community is ready to use its voice to lead on this issue, it’s time for Librarians (who have been agitating for a long-time here) to joint the choir and not get in the way."

This logic just seems backwards.  Librarians are in the center of this scholarly communication battle, and we had better try to see what bullets are coming our way.  We need to have the best vision possible, hone our karate skills, and try to predict what the others are going to do to attack us.  For librarians to step to the side of the ring and let only the scholars duke it out with the publishers while we watch from the 17th row is plain stupid.  We need to be in the ring fighting for our patrons, fighting for what we do to serve humanity, and fighting to preserve culture and the record of knowledge.

The scholarly community should have a loud voice on scholarly communication issues (Duh), but they can often be focused solely on the authors and researchers and their interests.  The Library community has the interests of readers and undergraduates and staff and other information consumers at heart.  We are there to speak for them.  The librarians and our patrons should not be told to "not get in the way."  In short, we need to insert ourselves so that we can get in the way.  The more we get in the way of publishers and scholars, the less we are in the way of that bullet.