The Microsoft Research team in New York spends its days trying to train an AI agent to learn how to finish virtual functions using the same resources humans have when learning a new endeavor.
Running the new AIX platform — developed in the Cambridge, England, laboratory in Redmond — five computer scientists use the Minecraft world as a testing ground.
The artificial intelligence representative starts with what it’s supposed to achieve, or no knowledge of its own surroundings. It requires to think for itself to understand the environment, and discover what exactly isn’t — and what’s important — like going uphill — like the time of day.
“The things that seem extremely easy for us are truly the things which are extremely hard for an artificial intelligence,” Robert Schapire, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, said in a statement.
Like a baby taking its first steps, the Minecraft character will withstand lots of trial and error, including falling into rivers and lava pits (OK, not just like a human kid). And if training a puppy to get, the researchers provide step-by-step rewards to their AI when it reaches part or all of its own goal.
“We are attempting to program it to learn, as opposed to programming it to accomplish specific tasks,” senior researcher Fernando Diaz said.
Microsoft acquired Minecraft manufacturer Mojang in the autumn of 2014 for a reported $2.5 billion. In the months since, Redmond has found innovative and educational ways to make use of its new plaything, partnering with Code.org to launch a Minecraft-themed coding tutorial, and gearing up for the summer release of Minecraft: Education Edition.
Even professionals are using the application, citing its “endless possibilities” — from simple tasks like looking for treasure to complex ones like assembling a structure with teammates.
“Minecraft is the right platform for this kind of research as it is this quite open world,” AIX programmer creator Katja Hofmann said, commending attributes like survival mode, friendly conflicts and lessons.
“It is a digital playpen for artificial intelligence,” Diaz added. “It’s an environment in which we can develop an algorithm for teaching a young artificial intelligence to learn different concepts on the planet.”
But while artificial intelligence has made great strides toward the robot revolution, computers fight with what researchers call general intellect — the nuanced and complex way people learn and also make decisions.
The Microsoft Research team is using AIX for its own studies, but have also made the platform available to a tiny group of academic researchers under a private beta. AIX, however, is going mainstream, accessible this summer via an open-source licence.