Microsoft uses Minecraft video game to advance artificial intelligence

The famous video game based on construction and survival is now used by researchers at the American computer giant In Minecraft, you can do a lot more than build strange buildings or chase after monsters. The famous online game with a pixel design can also advance research in artificial intelligence. Microsoft, which bought the game in 2014 for $ 2.5 billion, has just unveiled a new, unprecedented project. About ten researchers now use Minecraft to create artificial intelligence programs and test them in different universes. This project will be offered under a free license (free and accessible to all) from this summer.

Concretely, the researchers create characters within Minecraft. But rather than using them like any player, they equip them with a program capable of understanding and learning from their surroundings. They complete missions, such as finding the highest point in the game. “The character begins by not knowing anything about his surroundings or what he is supposed to accomplish. He must understand what surrounds him, what is important and what is not, for example if it is day or night ”, explains Microsoft in a post published on his blog. “He needs to try many times and suffer mistakes, like falling into a river or lava, and be rewarded when he achieves his goal.”

No need for strategy

It is not possible to win at Minecraft: the game offers complete freedom to players, who can use it to browse the many universes, build a house or their replica of the Eiffel Tower. It is this aspect that makes it particularly interesting for Microsoft researchers. “Minecraft is a perfect platform for this kind of research because it is an open-world”, explains Katja Hofmann, in charge of the AIX project, hosted on the Microsoft campus in Cambridge. “You can survive there, fight there, learn things there, play games. It’s great for artificial intelligence because it allows us to create games that are beyond our current capabilities.

It is common to use a game to train artificial intelligence. However, this usually involves teaching the program to develop a spirit of strategy. IBM tested Deep Blue and then Watson’s abilities at chess and the Jeopardy game show. Google chooses the game of Go to training its own program, AlphaGo. But Minecraft doesn’t offer any particular strategy: it’s about evolving in an environment and interacting with its elements, as a human would in the real world. “Minecraft allows players to make very complex decisions with consequences, and add more and more difficult as the character improves,” says Microsoft. “It also allows players to work together, which helps us understand how artificial intelligence and humans might work together in the future

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