Microsoft, the owner of the runaway hit video game Minecraft, has announced that it will be using Minecraft as a space to build, develop, and test new artificial intelligence programs. The new platform, named AIX, will be made available to scientist and amateurs alike and has been described by the team who designed it as an ideal “digital playpen” for AI systems.
If you’re like the rest of the world though you may be wondering, why Minecraft?
Katja Hofmann, a researcher at Microsoft’s Cambridge, UK, lab on the team who developed the program explains,
“Minecraft is the perfect platform for this kind of research because it’s this very open world . . . You can do survival mode, you can do ‘build battles’ with your friends, you can do courses, you can implement our own games. This is really exciting for artificial intelligence because it allows us to create games that stretch beyond current abilities.”
The reason Minecraft is perfect for AI is the same reason that it is so popular with humans. There is just so much that you can do in it. And that is what AI research needs rights now. Rather than programming an artificial intelligence to be good at a few select tasks, AI developers are looking to create a program that can learn to do a variety of tasks.
Fernando Diaz, a computer scientist and member of the Microsoft Research lab in New York City, spoke excitedly about using Minecraft to develop AI programs:
“It’s an environment in which we can develop an algorithm for teaching a young artificial intelligence to learn different concepts in the world.”
Microsoft is already using the AIX platform for its own artificial intelligence research and has released a small private beta to a few developers. AIX will become available to everyone this summer via an open-source license.
Microsoft hopes that this will lead to new discoveries in the field of artificial intelligence development. For now, the AI experiments will be “roped off” from normal players, with the experiments only running on the researcher’s own computers. However, developers are already hoping and aiming for a time when people will be able to interact with the AI in the game.
“But eventually, we will be able to scale this up further to include tasks that allow AI agents to learn to collaborate with humans and support them in a creative manner,” said Hofmann. “This provides a way to take AI from where it is today up to human-level intelligence, which is where we want to be, in several decades time.”
Ultimately, Microsoft’s goal is to use the AIX platform to further the development of their personal assistant AI, Cortana, and that is a goal that they share with many other companies.
Google recently has been in the limelight of the artificial intelligence field with the victory of it’s AI over the world champion of Go, a board game where it was long considered AI would never prevail over a human player. The ultimate goal of the Google DeepMind team who developed the AI, Alphago, is to create a learning AI to work alongside humans as a personal assistant.
There is no way of knowing which company will be the first to offer you the world’s first “intelligent phone” instead of just a smartphone. We are still many years away from working alongside artificial intelligence programs, but opening Minecraft to AI experimentation could serve as an important first step. And really, if we are going to be developing artificial intelligence programs capable of learning for and teaching themselves, I feel much more comfortable knowing my future robot overlords were first trained in a video game about creating rather than destroying.