The Exponential Death Spiral of Pokerface


The basic premise when playing poker is that one never knows what cards the other players are holding. Indeed, 'calling one's bluff' in a gambling-style poker competition essentially amounts to one player 'paying for the right' to look at the opponent's hand, to reveal the card values for the other players in the game that had been to that point occluded from full view (ie. cards in 'the hole').

Given the big data set that emerges from a televised professional poker tournament, on the other hand, with all of the hands dealt, the corresponding recalculations of probabilities after each card turned over and each bet made, the running tabulation of betting pot values, and the presence of the 'hole cam' that shows the TV audience everyone's hidden cards, lies the fact that the televisual-AI apparatus of the event knows everyone's cards before the outcome of each hand is concluded (a handy and trivial AI exercise in image recognition), thus making possible, at least in part, a quantitatively actionable science of human bluffery.

hole cam

This is why the Face — which is dissimulated in the human-to-human communication of game play by being completely devoid of expression, servomechanimistic, through wearing sunglasses or a low-brim hat, etc, so as not to give away 'a tell' that indicates one is bluffing — becomes obsolesced in determining said bluffery, insofar as the human-to-machine communication is concerned: a large enough data set that can recognize and process statistically-anomalous betting decisions vis-à-vis card values around the table doesn't require faciality in its retrospective digestion of the event — 'tells' will be determined by econometric modeling instead.

And yet it remains that these professional poker events take place in real life, in person, in the flesh. The Face still matters in this immediated context as a guarantor of bluff authenticity: there is a qualitative difference between this sort of live, in-person gambling play, and the sort of play that occurs on poker web sites with avatar stand-ins; it is a different sort of affect. Consider the former as a truth marker for how humans act when they are together, trying to deceive one another: the truth of the Pokerface as a guarantor of the false swirls and spirals helically with the false of the Face as an indicator of the true.

politics in a time of obsolesced war

NFL Ref Mixed Signal

"So why is the disappearance of the fullback significant, then? The American military-industrial complex is at its core a technological apparatus. As such, we have seen its military superiority derived from its scientific innovation, rather than from any inherent superiority in its trained personnel. This innovation, as integral as it has been to American society, should appear in the model of gridiron football. Put another way, if the football-war metaphor is to hold true, it is because the NFL depends more on fighter jets than on ground infantrymen. The disappearance of the fullback in favour of more passing threats suggests that this is in fact the case." (sportsbabel, Oct. 2003)


"There's a reason ESPN's 90-minute SportsCenter that followed Monday Night Football did an astonishing 4.5 rating (the highest SportsCenter rating in 17 years, by the way) . . ." (Bill Simmons, Sept. 2012)


"We'll get the real officials back thanks to the gravitational pull of the money bet on U.S. football. Because the most lucrative random numbers generator on Earth, the NFL, needs every game to be played on the square. Even the appearance of a fix could send the planet wobbling into the sun. And given sufficient incompetence, the appearance of a fix was inevitable. That's what happened Monday night in Seattle. This wasn't about integrity or love of the game or player safety or the fans or even the quality of the product on the field. This was about a game so poorly officiated by scabs that sportsbooks were refunding money—because an NFL game looked crooked." (Jeff MacGregor, Sept. 2012)


"The farce is that the NFL owners are so isolated that they can’t see that everyone wants the union refs back, even the Governor whose political fortunes are underwritten by right-wing, anti-labor billionaires: Wisconsin's Scott Walker. Yes, that Scott Walker. The same governor who waged war on union teachers and firefighters without care for the social costs, wants his union refs back. Late last night, the Green Bay Packers fan tweeted, 'After catching a few hours of sleep, the #Packers game is still just as painful. #Returntherealrefs.' The gall of Scott Walker possesses the power of a tsunami." (Dave Zirin, Sept. 2012)


"In the model of contemporary gridiron football, we retrieve the stadium games of Ancient Rome as well as the feudal-political model of chess, albeit both in modified form. While the stadium games of Ancient Rome often were re-creations of land and sea battles significant to the history of the Roman Empire, modern football, by contrast, is entirely in simulation: every play in every game models or describes a battle that has yet to take place — right down to the level of simulated death. The articulation of these battles is extremely accelerated, as if played in fast forward. Though an entire game of chess is based upon just one battle — a mobilization of Church, nobility and serfdom to protect the King — a football game models a battle on every play from scrimmage, with the sum of these battles allowing a team to capture or surrender territory, reach objectives, and eventually win or lose the contest/war sixty minutes later. We'll call it temporal dislocation in the former case (ie. the shift from archive to simulation), and temporal compression in the latter (ie. many discrete battles in one contest)." (sportsbabel, Nov. 2005)

Power Play (PP)

Courtesy of Epcor

"In a word, every machine functions as a break in the flow in the relation to the machine to which it is connected, but at the same time is also a flow itself, or the production of a flow, in relation to the machine connected to it. This is the law of the production of production." — D+G, Anti-Oedipus, p. 36

* * *

February, 2006: We must presume that as the casino becomes more virtualized, thus offering more privacy to the end-user, that catheterization will become the next evolutionary stage for the human-datapod hybrid, allowing urine to freely flow away to unseen underground canals in a fashion that allows for the uninterrupted complementary inflow of (seen) information channels.

violent passion surrogate, casinorama!

falloutjays, tv

Embodiment and Exaggeration

The Matrix was half-right in its metaphor: though the relationship is symbiotic, we are not producing electricity for the Machine but are rather producing — through activities such as fantasy sports, online casinos and internet stock trading — a non-rational agency for the Machine that pulses information forward and backward as a continual, rhythmic flow. (The fact that both electricity and information are representable by the zeroes and ones of binary code is, however, not insignificant.) This collective intelligence is known as "the market" and is the basis of the information age of capitalism.

Or, as DeLanda suggests: "We might just be insects pollinating machines that do not happen to have their own reproductive organs right now."

But as much as anything, sport provides a reminder that embodied, serial labour is not dead in this emerging information age of capitalism. The vectors of archive and telesthesia are layered on top of the embodied capital production that manufactures its information. Though salaries are indeed inflated well beyond the relative earnings of most other classes of worker due to the attendent celebrity spectacle so entwined with the volumetric diagram of biopolitical production, we should understand that professional and quasi-professional "amateur" sport provides an excellent laboratory through which to examine the dynamics of material and immaterial labour precisely because of this exaggerated formal structure.

The Control Room

Camera 1

Several years ago my mother picked me up at the Ottawa airport on a trip home from university. Before leaving Ottawa to begin the final leg of the journey to Kingston, we were going to spend a few hours with my grandparents — not at their home, however, but rather by meeting them at the Rideau Carleton Raceway. Scots to the bone, my grandparents had always enjoyed a modest wager, whether over a game of golf, darts, bingo or the lottos, and in their twilight years they had taken a fondness to Rideau Carleton's horse racing, slot machines, and all-you-can-eat buffet.

On this trip home, though, the outdoor racetrack was closed for the season, so after exchanging greetings my mother and grandmother went to play the slots, while my grandfather hurried me upstairs to the off-track betting parlour, where he had already established residence in front of a huge bank of televisions.

Off Track BettingAs I sat down, he attempted to explain things to me: "That's Woodbine. That's New York." And so forth. It was a furious blur of simulcast action: harness racing in California, thoroughbreds in Hong Kong; numbers of all manners and meanings crowding the screens; contrails of colours and lights blazing in every direction. I stood there, numbed by the action. But my grandfather was drinking it all in, selectively processing that which concerned him while somehow ignoring the rest.

Camera 2

Virilio might have described it as a state of polar inertia: central nervous system outered and accelerated to the virtual nexus connecting these myriad racetracks simulcasting from around the world, while meat-body remained inert on a factory-made bank of chairs in a room on the outskirts of Ottawa. His spare bodily movements came in the form of staccato walks from chair to parimutuel betting wicket and back again — polar inertia, yes, but also Everyman as real trader in the global market economy.

Camera 3

The scene described above has a rich pedigree that develops along two dimensions: The first stretches back to the earliest optical technologies responsible for the remoting of vision — Galileo's telescope, Daguerre's photographic process, the Lumière brothers' cinématographe, etc., all may be found along this dimension.

The second, which developed in parallel, constitutes the political economy techniques of disciplinary society documented by Foucault, a shift from the public spectacle of torture that ensured the moral authority of the King to the more fluid techniques of surveillance and panopticism that foster docile and productive bodies in the modern age.

Clearly, the tie that unites these two dimensions is the bias towards the visual. Foucault recognized that the Panopticon wasn't simply a model for the ideal prison, but rather a general strategy of power that played on sight and in/visibility, and as such "must be represented as a pure architectural and optical system" (D/P, p.205).

Camera 4

TV Control RoomTelevision took a great leap beyond the film of cinema when it substituted for the archival substrate of celluloid film the pure signal of the electromagnetic wave. Live optics became truly remoted — tele-vision.

Most importantly, in distributing the image stream to multiple recipients, it eschewed the archive in favour of the transmission — the celluloid substrate of film yielding to the pure signal of television's electromagnetic wave.

For the longest time, the technological apparatus required to produce and distribute television signals was extremely costly, and thus only attainable by large corporations or government agencies. During this time, live events — in many cases, live sporting events — were driving innovation in television practice.

One such innovation was the use of multiple cameras to provide different viewing angles of the action, which were then synthesized into one processed image for distribution. The processing or filtering of these multiple perspectives takes place in the control room, where a producer has the unique role of surveying several monitors at once and simultaneously deciding what will be shown to the television audience. This process of viewing the same game action from multiple spatial perspectives may be thought of as the technical reproduction of the spectator viewing a Cubist painting.

Camera 5

As the cost of videocameras and the rest of the televisual production apparatus decreases, reducing the barriers to acquisition mentioned earlier, cameras begin to proliferate like mushrooms and appear anywhere that remoted vision is desired. One of these applications is in the field of security and surveillance, which should make sense to us.

Foucault notes that the function of discipline is to make the object of its power more politically docile and economically efficient, hence the desirability of the Panopticon tower and it's possibility of a guard or other observing gaze being present. The greater the number of towers, the greater the degree of discipline. In theory.

Camera 6

But does the mandate for economic efficiency not also encompass those who would, metaphorically, occupy the observation tower and wield the (potentially present) gaze of authority? In other words, is Bentham's tower guard not also subject to the same logic of production as the rest of society?

To improve the efficiency of the gaze we have two choices: increase the capacity of Bentham's guard, so that several observation towers are monitored simultaneously, or automate the function of the guard with some sort of computer technology. In practice, we witness both solutions, though for the "object of information" being monitored by the cool, unblinking glass eye of a camera, both appear functionally the same.

Camera 7

Chicago SurveillanceWe will often see a security guard monitoring several remote locations at once with the aid of surveillance cameras and a bank of monitors, a role not unlike that of the Cubist producer in the television control room — except that the guard is often monitoring different locations rather than the same location (and act) from different simultaneous viewpoints.

We also frequently see the automation of the surveillance function by having an unmonitored camera connected to some sort of external archiving or memory device (tape, minidisc, hard drive). With this reintroduction of the archival substrate, an image stream is inscribed on the substrate along with a rich information stream of meta-data. Classic optical vision by a human and its corresponding action — since Bentham's guard only functions if the threat of punishment exists — occurs at some later time. Put another way, we introduce a lag in the perception-decision-action process, such that the surveillance archive becomes useful only after an infraction has taken place (witness the London subway bombings last year).

As a result, we now seek to either shrink the perception-decision-action time lag (which requires networked computer assistance) or return proactivity to the surveillance function (which requires bio-recognition systems and their sophisticated filtering algorithms).

Though God is dead, as Nietzsche tells us, at least we don't have to wait long to replace His omnipresent gaze.

Camera 8

NFL Sunday TicketWhile we have seen technological developments in terms of the reduced size, increased performance, and lowered cost of the videocameras that produce remoted electromagnetic image streams, there have also been important developments on the side of distribution and consumption.

Once again, sport plays an influential role in the development of the vision machine, this time in a consumptive role. The NFL and DirecTV have partnered to create NFL Sunday Ticket, a premium television package that, among other features, allows one to monitor up to 8 games simultaneously, not unlike how one monitors several racetracks around the world from one off-track parimutuel betting parlour.

At first glance, the home viewer of the NFL Sunday Ticket package is like the producer in the television control room, able to choose from multiple feeds to produce a customized video stream for an audience of one.

This, however, is not entirely accurate. In fact, the home viewer of the NFL Sunday Ticket package is rather like the security guard monitoring several surveillance cameras at once. In other words, DirecTV has turned the production efficiencies sought by security and surveillance into opportunities for the consumption of sportocratic culture.

Why? Beyond the ability to change channels easily from a dull game to one that is more exciting, it is to serve gambling purposes.

Each of the eight image streams has already been pre-processed by the producer located at the remote site. A rich stream of meta-data accompanies each image stream, indicating score, time, possession, channel, etc. Furthermore, there are interactive features that allow one to monitor the statistics of several players at one time (as for fantasy sports, etc.). It serves to increase the density of information that flows to the televiewer.

NFL football is hand in hand with horse racing as the sport most wagered upon in North America. In this light, we see that the DirecTV package resembles the Rideau-Carleton offtrack betting scenario, in which the consumption of video feeds from various locales exists primarily to stimulate or facilitate the productive aspects of multiple simultaneous wagers. The strict boundaries between production and consumption dissolve into the flesh and circuitry of the global network and the connected intelligence of millions of bettors continues to appreciate.