Archive for the 'Poker' Category

Shakespeare Follow-Up: Lie Detection

Friday, June 30th, 2017

In Macbeth, King Duncan receives a report on the execution of the Thane of Cawdor, who had betrayed him in the war against Norway. Duncan notes his own surprise at the deception:

There’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face:
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust.

No art to find the mind’s construction in the face? Is it really possible that nobody in Shakespeare’s time (or even Macbeth’s time) had thought to study this? And if not, where is Shakespeare getting the idea from? My Arden Macbeth (Sandra Clark and Pamela Mason, eds.) says that it is proverbial, but that only raises more questions about what is meant by it. In all honesty, I think it’s time to bring back the Shakespeare Follow-Up.

First of all, the idea that different emotions would register in an observable way has always been as plain as the smile on your face. If anyone wants to doubt that, they need only look at the types of masks used in ancient Greek theatre to represent comedy and tragedy and see if they can tell which is which.

Wait, wait, don’t tell me…

So the idea of finding the mind’s construction in the face was well known in Macbeth’s time. But what about someone who intends to deceive? How could Duncan have uncovered Cawdor’s treachery?

As long as there have been liars, there have been techniques attempting to reveal them, which have had various degrees of accuracy. In ancient China, they used to put dried rice in a suspect’s mouth and ask them to spit it out. If they were lying, their mouths would be too dry to spit out the rice. At least, that’s what they said on The Unit (see 5:30 to 7:10 below):

In the clip, Jonas mentions the witch trials, and indeed, the trial by ordeal was a common method of uncovering deceivers throughout medieval Europe, whether by water, combat, fire, or hot iron. As Europe approached the Renaissance, these beliefs began to slowly evolve, marking a significant gap between the worldviews of Macbeth’s time and Shakespeare’s.

Shakespeare himself seemed intrigued with the idea that one could alter one’s own face to conceal evil intentions. Hamlet has an epiphany that “one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” And in Henry VI, Part Three, the future King Richard III actually brags about being such a villain:

Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,
And cry ‘Content’ to that which grieves my heart,
And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face to all occasions.

Could Shakespeare have been influenced by the writings of French philosopher Michel de Montaigne? In his late 16th-century essay Of Physiognomy, Montaigne muses on this very question, ascribing moral implications to a false aspect:

The face is a weak guarantee; yet it deserves some consideration. And if I had to whip the wicked, I would do so more severely to those who belied and betrayed the promises that nature had implanted on their brows; I would punish malice more harshly when it was hidden under a kindly appearance. It seems as if some faces are lucky, others unlucky. And I think there is some art to distinguishing the kindly faces from the simple, the severe from the rough, the malicious from the gloomy, the disdainful from the melancholy, and other such adjacent qualities. There are beauties not only proud but bitter; others are sweet, and even beyond that, insipid. As for prognosticating future events from them, those are matters that I leave undecided.

Sorry, Duncan.

The 18th-century actor David Garrick turned this vice into a virtue, developing great fame for his repertoire of facial expressions that could be used to convey a wide range of emotions on stage. Charles Darwin, in his 1872 work The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, identified a specific set of facial expressions that he believed to be universal to humans as a product of evolution. Today, we know that, while many facial expressions are generally universal, they can be profoundly influenced by culture.

In the 20th century, the rise of the polygraph machine added an extra level of science to lie detection. The machine registers physiological responses the subject exhibits while answering questions. It’s not infallible, and it’s not unbeatable, but it just might have been able to reveal the Thane of Cawdor’s treachery, had it been available to apply.

But as far as finding the mind’s construction in the face, we should turn to the poker community, which has made a small science of identifying expressions, statements, and actions that reveal the strength or weakness of a players hand. When there’s money on the table, every advantage matters. These “tells” are catalogued, studied, observed, and – of course – faked when the opportunity arises. Some poker players, to defend against being read in this way, will conceal their faces with visors, hoodies, or even sunglasses. Interestingly enough, sunglasses were first invented in 12th century China, where they were originally worn by judges to assist them in concealing their emotions during a trial.

But the master of the art of finding the mind’s construction in the face would have to be Dr. Paul Ekman. Ekman is mostly famous for discovering the “micro expression,” a facial tell that sweeps across the face for a fraction of a second, betraying the subject’s true emotional state. They cannot be hidden. They cannot be faked. They also cannot be read without deep training, which Ekman provides.

Ekman and his research became the inspiration for the Fox crime drama Lie to me*. On the show, Tim Roth plays Dr. Cal Lightman, a fictionalized version of Ekman.  Each episode shows Lightman and his team using micro expressions and other scientific tells to find out the truth for desperate clients. If you’ve read this essay this far, you might enjoy the show:

So, with all of these clues available, how well does Duncan learn from his experience with the traitorous Thane of Cawdor? He grants the now-available title to Macbeth, and then Macbeth kills him. If there was an art to find the mind’s construction in the face, Duncan was very, very bad at it.

Your Move: Conundrum

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

The Shakespeare Teacher is out. It’s your move.

Today’s challenge is based on the most recent Conundrum, which was a logic problem called Poker Game 2.

The answer is the Queen of Spades and the Six of Spades.

Your challenge is to select the five cards on the board to make that answer correct. Everything else about the problem will stay the same.

First person to post a correct entry (by March 10) is the winner.

UPDATE: I’ll leave this challenge active a little longer if anyone wants to try it.

Conundrum: Poker Game 2

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Our four old poker friends have migrated from five-card stud to no-limit Texas hold ‘em, which they always play with a single deck of cards.

During one hand, the flop was an Eight, Ten, and King – all clubs. Ron went all-in, and the other three players called with money remaining.

The turn card was the Nine of Hearts. Nick went all-in, and the other two called with money remaining.

The river card was the Ten of Hearts. Frank went all-in, and Lennie called with money remaining.

As it turned out, nobody went broke on this hand.

What is the best possible hand that Lennie could have had?

UPDATE: Puzzle solved by Kimi. See comments for answer.

Conundrum: Poker Game

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

Four poker friends played a hand of five-card stud. Each player was dealt one hole card face down, and then four additional cards face up. The cards were dealt, as in standard poker, one at a time around the table, from one regular poker deck. However, instead of betting each round, they decided to deal all twenty cards out in the beginning, and let winner take all!

1. As it turned out, any two consecutive cards dealt in this hand were either different color cards of the same rank or were consecutive ranks of the same suit, considering Aces as high cards only.

2. At least three of the four hole cards were Queens.

3. The last card dealt was a Heart.

4. At least one player was dealt more than one Ten. Nobody was ever dealt a Nine.

5. No Diamond was ever dealt immediately before or after a Spade.

6. Ron was dealt no Clubs, Lenny was dealt no Kings, Nick was dealt at least one Jack, and Frank’s hole card was a Spade.

Who won, and with what hand?

UPDATE: Puzzle solved by ArtVark. See comments for answer.

Conundrum: Two Boxes

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

Researchers in Germany are working on a way to predict the intentions of human subjects by observing their brain activity. Damn!

For some reason it’s a little disturbing to me that something as personal and ephemeral as an intention can have a physiological manifestation that can be measured. Or maybe I’m just disturbed that they are now starting to measure it. What new “mind reading” technologies might be developed from this science? Could it become prosecutable to merely intend to commit a crime? Intent is already used as a legal concept, and attempted murder is considered a crime, even if nobody is hurt as a result. Could market researchers measure the intent of potential consumers? Will we one day have little handheld devices that can measure intent at a poker table or when our daughter’s date arrives to pick her up?

It all reminds me of a thought experiment made popular by Robert Nozick, which will be this week’s Conundrum. Before we get to it, though, it might be helpful to consider another thought experiment known as Kavka’s Toxin.

Let’s say I offer you $100,000 if you can form an intention to drink a particular toxin. This toxin will make you violently ill for about five or six hours, after which you will be perfectly fine. You’d drink it for the money, but you’re not being asked to drink it. You’re being asked to intend to drink it. After you have the money, you are free to change your mind and not drink it. The question is, can you actually form a genuine intention of doing something unpleasant that you will have no motivation to do?

Turn that one over in your mind for a few moments before moving on to this week’s Conundrum, Newcomb’s Problem.

Imagine there are two boxes, Box A and Box B. You will have the option of choosing to take both boxes, or to take Box B alone. You will keep what you find inside. Box A is transparent and contains one thousand dollars. Box B is opaque. A super-intelligent alien scientist with a proven track record of accurately predicting human behavior has analyzed you and has secretly made a prediction about which you will choose. If he believes you will choose Box B alone, he has put one million dollars inside. If he believes you will take both boxes, then he has left Box B empty. Which do you choose?

The super-intelligent scientist has run this trial with several hundred other humans, and has made a correct prediction each time. The only people who have ended up with the million are the ones who chose Box B alone. On the other hand, our alien friend has already made his prediction and left. Your choice can no longer affect the amounts that are in the boxes. You may as well take them both, right?

Fans of game theory might recognize this as a variation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Game theory would likely suggest that you flip a coin, so we’re going to disallow that option. You must rely on reasoning alone.

Unlike last week’s math puzzler, this one doesn’t have a right or wrong answer. It’s a thought experiment designed to test your conceptions of free will vs. determinism.

Or as Nozick put it:

To almost everyone, it is perfectly clear and obvious what should be done. The difficulty is that these people seem to divide almost evenly on the problem, with large numbers thinking that the opposing half is just being silly.

It will be interesting to hear how people answer this.

Will you take both boxes, or Box B alone?

Feel free to answer the question, or continue the discussion of any of the topics covered above.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Via Prospero’s Books, I found this article about robots being used to simulate evolution. I’ve read about similar projects simulating evolution through competing artificial intelligence programs, using the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” scenario as the competitive task. The Prisoner’s Dilemma, for those who are unfamiliar, breaks down as some variation of this:

You and a partner are both correctly arrested for two crimes, one major and one minor, and are put in separate rooms. Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy comes to visit you and offers you a deal: testify against your partner for the major crime, your partner will get twenty years, and you’ll walk for both crimes. However, his lovely assistant is right now offering the same deal to your partner. If you both confess, you’ll both get five years. If your partner confesses and you don’t, you’ll get the twenty, and he’ll walk. If neither of you confess, McCoy can’t make his case for the major crime, but he’ll make sure you both do two years for the minor one. What’s the right play?

Well, logically speaking, regardless of what your partner ends up doing, you’re better off confessing. But if you both confess, you both end up worse off than if you had both kept your mouths shut. If you had had the chance to communicate with each other, you might have chosen differently. The fact that you don’t know what your idiot partner is going to do while gazing into the eyes of the lovely ADA means that you can’t afford to take any chances, and neither can he. You both end up doing the nickel, even though neither of you had to.

In this example, you only get to play the game once. If you play some version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma with the same person repeatedly, your choices can affect future outcomes. In a sense, the choices you make are a form of communication. Only the very last time you play do you revert back to the original cutthroat scenario. (And since everybody knows this will be the case, the next-to-last iteration can also be cutthroat. How far back does this reasoning work?) There is actually a twenty-year-old Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma competition for artificial intellegence programs and the winning strategy has long been the simple Tit-for-Tat. But it seems there’s now a new champion, though it seems to me to be a bit of a cheat. Read the article and let me know what you think.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is an illustration of one of the central concepts of a branch of mathematics called “game theory.” Game theory allows us to make mathematical computations in decision making, even when all of the factors are not known. Think of two generals, one trying to choose a target to attack, the other deciding how to deploy defensive forces. Each knows the other is intelligent and out there making his decision. That’s game theory. If you were to meet someone anywhere in the world outside of the United States, but you couldn’t plan with that person ahead of time, where would you go? Would it surprise you to learn that almost everyone makes the same choice? (Post your answer in the comments section, if you like.) That’s game theory too.

With a branch of mathematics that can take unknown variables into account, a computer’s functionality can be increased significantly. Obviously computers that are powerful enough can play chess, but game theory allows them to play poker as well. There’s already a Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament for Artificial Intelligence programs. Imagine putting all of these programs into a giant simulated Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament where the losing programs died out and the winning programs created offspring with the possibility of mutation. We might evolve the ultimate strategy. And when we do, the first round of drinks are on me!

But as computers get more powerful, imagine other simulations we may be able to run, and what understandings we might be able to gain from these experiments. Evolution has proved itself to be a mighty force in the past. Once all of the data from Web 2.0 is compiled, maybe it will be allowed to evolve into Web 3.0. It’s not about computers becoming super-sentient and ruling over humans. It’s about humans developing and using new tools that can increase our capacity for growth. And if evolution has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that.