Microsoft Opens Up Minecraft For AI Testing


Microsoft’s AIX aims to allow researchers to train artificial intelligence agents within the game’s complex world

Microsoft is to use Minecraft, the popular game whose parent company it acquired in 2014, as a testing ground for training next-generation artificial intelligence (AI).

The Windows maker said its Cambridge lab has developed a program called AIX that allows artificial intelligence software to interact with the complex world of the game, and plans to release this work under an open source licence later this year.

‘General intelligence’

artifical intelligence

While most artificial intelligences today are only capable of carrying out limited, precisely defined tasks, such as mastering a particular game, Microsoft said Minecraft could be used to train AIs that have something approaching the general awareness and learning ability of a human being.

“Minecraft is the perfect platform for this kind of research because it’s this very open world,” said Katja Hofmann, who led development of AIX at the Cambridge lab. “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.”

AIs are routinely trained using games, but ones that are much simpler than Minecraft, Hofmann said.

The game offers a number of different modes and allows players to carry out tasks ranging from the simple, such as seeking treasure, to the complex, such as building elaborate structures.

The game could be used to train machine-learning software that could later be used in applications such as robotics, Microsoft said. Hofmann speculated that AI agents could be trained to collaborate on tasks with humans within the game’s world.

‘Embodied’ AI

The tool, which allows an AIs to become “embodied” within the game, could be helpful in allowing AI agents to integrate language and vision, Microsoft said.

Microsoft said its own researchers are using AIX, which has been under development for about a year, and a limited private test of the software has also been extended to a few academic researchers.

The company publicly announced the software on Monday and said it plans to make the tool available as open source, meaning users are free to modify the underlying code, this summer.

The platform consists of a mod for the Java version of the game and code that allows AI agents to sense and act within Minecraft, Microsoft said. Both components can run on Windows, Linux or Mac OS X, and are compatible with agents programmed in any language, according to the company.

Broad release

Microsoft said it is looking to attract a broad range of researchers and amateurs, and will also be making available teaching materials to help attract the interest of children.

IBM and Google are among the other IT companies running major AI research projects.

Google’s AlphaGo last week won three consecutive games against world-class Go player Lee Se-Dol in a best-of-five tournament, although Lee made a comeback on Sunday, finally defeating the program.

SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk and physicist Stephen Hawking are among those who have called for regulation of AI research, arguing that complex thinking machines could threaten humanity’s existence.

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