SCIENCE

Artificial Intelligence May Cure Gambling Addictions

Meet the computer program that knows gambling addictions well enough to force you to fold 'em

Oct 27, 2015 at 1:24 PM ET

For many online gamblers, knowing when to stop placing bets is less a matter of choice and more a matter of addiction. Researchers, however, have developed a computer program that can identify online gambling addictions and cut off users before they become hooked.

By harnessing the power of machine learning, the new software tracks online gamblers and keeps tabs on their betting habits. Then, it run those trends against an enormous database of addictive gambling behaviors—comparing what is happening in real time to the betting habits of actual online gamblers who, in the past, reporting gambling addictions. Once the program identifies a problem, it forwards that information to the online gambling service provider, who can choose to either block the addicted gambler or stop sending him or her promotional materials.

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Unfortunately, online casinos don’t have bouncers or kindly dealers to escort you home after you’ve dropped your kid’s college savings on the table. What the growing online gambling industry needs is an A.I. sentinel, skilled at identifying gambling addictions and cutting off access before things get ugly. And soon, online gambling might have something just like that.

The new software is the result of an unusual collaboration between the City University of London, which lent expertise in the psychological pathways to gambling addiction, and the software analytics company BetBuddy, which ensured that the computer models accurately tracked gambling trends. The researchers claim that their system is 87 percent accurate in predicting when certain betting patterns are likely to devolve into gambling addictions.

There are more than half a million compulsive gamblers in Britain alone, where the UK’s National Health Service says the average problem gambler has lost $90,000 dollars to the addiction. Britain is better at tracking these sorts of things than the United States, because the NHS pays to treat its gambling addicts, and so keeps tabs on them. Meanwhile, online gambling is a growing industry, with revenues in Europe expected to exceed $14 billion this year.

The researchers, who are writing on a paper on the subject due to be published in 2016, hope that their computer program will help bolster the industry, while also making it safer for responsible, recreational gambling. “Early detection and prevention of problem gambling is not only in the interest of those who engage in online gambling—it can also help deliver a more stable and growing market place for online gambling providers,” Artur Garcez of City University London said in a prepared statement.