We already knew that Minecraft could make players smarter - but now it’s being used to make computers smarter, too. The folks over at Project Malmo (two of whom, Katja Hofmann and Matthew Johnson, are pictured above) are using Minecraft as a platform to develop better Artificial Intelligence, and they’ve made their open source tool-set available to the public today.
AI is already pretty good at specific, limited tasks: it can be taught to understand or translate speech, identify faces and generate text. How clever! But to make them smarter still, AIs need to be taught how to learn by themselves. The ambition is to achieve “artificial general intelligence” - not simply computers with an ability to solve individual problems, like beating squishy human brains at chess, but digital minds that absorb all sorts of information from the world and combine this knowledge creatively. You know, like we meat-people do. A robot with artificial general intelligence might still beat you at chess, but it’d also know how annoyed you’d be afterwards and that it might be able to cheer you up with a cinnabon.
Minecraft, it turns out, is a pretty great proving ground for AI: it’s an open-ended game with hugely diverse challenges and opportunities for creative solutions, spatial and temporal reasoning, collaboration and more. In other words, it shares a lot of the challenges we face in the real world and to be good at it you need to combine a lot of different kinds of knowledge - from the basics of navigation to understanding social dynamics.
Getting AI to combine strategies for different problems in the creative way humans do is one of the major hurdles on the way to achieving similar levels of smarts. Minecraft is an ideal platform for this sort of learning, and the hope is that, through Project Malmo, the game will provide researchers the world over with a single richly interactive test-bed, across which it is easy to compare different approaches or foster collaboration.
You can read more about the project here or simply jump in and try out the mod for PC / Mac edition. You do need to be able to code, but the team say it’s pretty accessible for novices - they are really excited to see what the community do with it, as well as the academics.
Go make a mastermind!
Marsh - @marshdavies