A Quora answer I wrote recently drew the ire of some poker players on Twitter.
— Vinny Pahuja (@vinpahuja) July 18, 2015
I want to take the discussion further. Poker players should take what I am saying as a compliment, even if they feel offended by the way I say it.
The world desperately needs the skills of the professional poker player.
Average is Over explores how a human-computer chess team is a close model for the successful knowledge worker of the future. A poker player with a heads-up display (HUD) is an even closer model, because our future promises to be far less deterministic than a chess board.
In poker, there are multiple nondeterministic axes: the randomness of the deck and the unpredictability of human behavior. In a complex hand of poker, a savvy player evaluates each of these semi-random axes by building a probability density function, which measures the various potential futures, and then assigning expected values to each point along the probability density function.
The HUD assists in the construction of this probability density function. This function provides mathematical basis for decisions which a novice poker player would evaluate based on “gut”, “feel”, or some other hand-wavy justification.
Poker and chess are both highly defined games with simple sets of rules. Even the nondeterminism of poker rarely fractals into some totally unexpected area of decision space. These sorts of environments we can comfortably give to computers to solve. The only reason we haven’t automated poker yet is that the best AI researchers have better things to do.
We can disagree about the speed at which professional online poker (as we currently know it) is vaporizing, but that is not even the most important point here. More important than your career risk: the world desperately needs the skills of the professional poker player.
What Poker Players Can Do In Today’s Economy
Every company is bad at evaluating risk.
Time is wasted on projects with low expected value. Downside risk vs. upside potential is never discussed. Black swans are rarely acknowledged, and even more rarely looked at as opportunities. Software developers are very bad on average at evaluating opportunity cost.
Most software companies would benefit by hiring a professional poker player. The poker player could spend all day walking around the company and evaluating situations where too much risk is being taken, and situations where not enough risk is being taken.
The poker player could also serve as an HR consultant, because poker players are good at articulating obscure strengths and weaknesses in other people. Basically, the CPO (Chief Poker Officer) would have her entire calendar booked all day because she would be so busy evaluating systemic “leaks” and offering win-win solutions to abstract value propositions.
Given that every company is a software company, the market is very “soft” for a poker player with 3-4 years of experience.
The biggest risk for a company considering a CPO is that the CPO might be arrogant and disruptive. Poker players are generally bad at teamwork. A poker player who is considering this route should humble himself, buy a lot of books on business and teamwork, and try to get rid of the win-lose mentality of the felt.
Every company is like a poker player sitting around a global, asynchronous poker game. Within the company, everyone needs to be aligned in order for the right amount of chips to be wagered in the right scenario. The CPO has a great opportunity to ensure that the company’s bets are being coordinated properly.
How Poker Players Can Build Tomorrow’s Economy
The future will bring a high floor to human well-being. Businessmen and futurists are in favor of a basic income. Better healthcare is coming to the masses. People will eventually have the choice between working no job and working an enjoyable job.
Existential downside risk will be capped. Consequently, people will become more comfortable taking risks in everyday life.
Gambling has been abstracted away from our modern state of mind because people are not comfortable acknowledging the giant risks and foolish bets they consistently make. People are scared, and they would rather not see the numbers behind their terrible decision making.
But again, downside risk will be capped in the future. People will feel more comfortable and happy, and will be less afraid to acknowledge the fallible mathematics of their decision making.
Gambling technology has the potential to shed more light on the probability density functions of everyday life. Gambling technology could be as fundamentally useful to economics as Bitcoin.
Gambling is frowned upon because it has not been used productively.
Current gambling industries are highly exploitive and encourage negative-sum scenarios. This is not the fault of Gambling, it is due to the conservatism and incrementalism of the entrenched players like Harrah’s.
Chris Ferguson put poker onto the Internet correctly. He could have looked at the space more fundamentally and said “what can we do in the gambling space using the Internet that we cannot do in real life?” I can’t say I blame him for simply building Full Tilt Poker. At least FTP made breakthroughs in UI development.
But we need fundamental gambling breakthroughs.
There is a giant, unexplored potential ecosystem at the convergence of gambling, distributed systems, crowdfunding, and virtual reality.
Innovation in the world of gambling is like a spring that has become increasingly compressed over time. Overeager regulators, entrenched competitors, bitter exploited customers—what more could an entrepreneur want? From a “first principles” perspective, the gambling world is as inefficient and ripe for the taking as it gets.
Poker players can team up with technologists to build new ways to gamble. Once it is proven that gambling is super useful as a means for exposing undiscovered information, the regulation in the space will loosen.
Poker technologists who are not up to the task of reinventing gambling could work on heads-up displays for knowledge workers. We need HUDs for insurance adjusters, customer service representatives, lawyers, Uber drivers, basketball coaches, teachers, doctors, and everyone else.