Microsoft’s world-building game Minecraft has found a new use other than as the ultimate time-killer – a proving ground for artificial intelligence.
The game is part of a new initiative launched by Microsoft called Project AIX, which wants to use the sandbox game and its almost infinite possibilities to test artificial intelligence programs by having them tackle its virtual landscapes.
It will all work by installing a new piece of software – also called AIX, which was developed in the UK – which can then be used to enable AI programs to control a character in the Minecraft world, with researchers getting feedback on how it reacts, and the consequences of the actions it takes.
In a nutshell, this is computers being monitored playing video games to see what they learn each time they play.
However, Microsoft has said the game is more “sophisticated” than current AI research and is cheaper than building a robot. Minecraft’s open world-building nature means that almost any scenario can be created if simulated within the pixel blocks environment.
The game could be used to create an obstacle course that the AI must then try and complete, for example, attempting to learn from each failed attempt.
Initially, a special testing area of Minecraft will be created for researchers to use for these experiments, this will begin in July. However, Microsoft has said the long-term aim is to have regular users interact with the AI characters in the game.
Katja Hofmann, one of the developers of the AIX platform said: “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.”
Google is also in the midst of testing out AI of its own, with the firm’s DeepMind AlphaGo program currently taking on world champion Lee Sedol at the ancient Chinese board game Go. The computer is winning 3-1.