Minecraft has long been home to half-a-mile-long PCs made of wood and stone, but it’s never promised to push forward the frontier of artificial intelligence. That’s precisely what’s coming in July, however: support for research into human-level AI.
The best Minecraft mods can turn Notch's opus into a platform for all sorts of projects.
Researchers - and you, if you fancy it - can install the open source AIX software that links into Minecraft, allowing AI code to direct an avatar around, say, an in-game obstacle course involving lava, and return feedback about the consequences of its actions.
In the beginning, experiments will be cut off from normal play - but eventually Microsoft and Mojang plan to let players interact with the code.
“People build amazing structures that do amazing things in Minecraft, and this allows experimenters to put in tasks that will stretch AI technology beyond its current capacity,” Microsoft Research’s project lead Katja Hofmann told the BBC.
“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. 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.”
Microsoft expect to see lots of reinforcement learning: the process by which an AI learns to succeed via a combination of experimentation and prior knowledge, and the same way Google’s AlphaGo managed to beat a world-class board game player last week.
Microsoft aren't alone in this - the Space Engineers studio are actively working on self-improving AI. Do you fancy yourself a builder of synths?