Facebook has achieved a major milestone in artificial intelligence (AI) thanks to one of its systems beating six professional poker players at no-limit Texas hold ‘em.

The Pluribus AI defeated renowned players including Darren Elias, who holds the record for most World Poker Tour titles.

Beating poker pros has been a major challenge for AI researchers, as the best players need to be good at bluffing and unpredictable.

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“Playing a six-player game rather than head-to-head requires fundamental changes in how the AI develops its playing strategy,” said Noam Brown, a research scientist at Facebook AI. “We’re elated with its performance and believe some of Pluribus’s playing strategies might even change the way pros play the game.”

The breakthrough comes two years after an AI algorithm developed by Google-owned DeepMind helped a computer beat a human champion at the notoriously complicated board game Go for the first time.

While it might not be immediately clear why companies such as Facebook and Google are developing advanced artificial intelligence algorithms to beat humans at these games, the researchers say their work will help broaden the applications of AI in the real world.

“Pluribus achieved superhuman performance at multiplayer poker, which is a recognised milestone in artificial intelligence and in game theory that has been open for decades,” said Tuomas Sandholm, a professor at Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science, who helped develop the system. 

He added: “Thus far, superhuman AI milestones in strategic reasoning have been limited to two-party competition. The ability to beat five other players in such a complicated game opens up new opportunities to use AI to solve a wide variety of real-world problems.”

A paper detailing the breakthrough was published in the journal Science. 

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