Microsoft teaches AI how to climb hills and understand our world, using Minecraft

Microsoft has quietly launched a new testing platform for artificial intelligence, that relies on Minecraft as the testbed for the algorithms. In other words, “young artificial intelligence” will learn how to do things inside the worlds created in Minecraft.

Called AIX, the AI-testing platform was developed by a team inside of Microsoft with one purpose in mind: have a simulation of the real world, where an AI can learn stuff without actually getting in the way of humans. The platform was developed as an internal tool for the company but it’s also being opened up for academics and researchers. This summer, AIX will be fully opened up under an open-source license.

AIX and the way it’s being used may sound familiar to some readers, as using game worlds for testing AI isn’t necessarily new. Indeed, it’s somewhat similar to the way researchers developed an AI for Super Mario that slowly (or rather spectacularly quickly in some sense) learned to play and finish the game on its own. The same thing is being used inside of Minecraft, with the added benefit that the ultra-popular game allows for much more complex worlds, interactions and tests.

Right now a team inside of Microsoft is using AIX to program a Minecraft bot to climb the highest mountain generated in the blocky world. While that may sound simple enough, there’s a special trick to the program that makes it not only much more difficult than it sounds, but also infinitely more useful if it succeeds. And that’s the fact that developers aren’t coding a specific purpose for the AI – instead they’re coding for it to learn about the world it lives in and what its purpose is.

In this way, AI researchers - not only inside of Microsoft, but also in research labs and universities around the world - are trying to develop an artificial intelligence that works and learns like actual humans do. However, that will take a long time, so we still have a few good years left before the machines finally rise up against us and act like real-world griefers.

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