Zerg rush! Now Google DeepMind, Blizzard train AIs with StarCraft battles

Duo follow Facebook in using space war game to improve neural networks

Vid Google DeepMind is partnering with Blizzard Entertainment, the producers of the hugely popular StarCraft game, to set the real-time strategy game as the next challenge in AI.

The announcement was made during BlizzCon, a video games convention held by Blizzard Entertainment today, and comes right after researchers from Facebook and the University of Oxford published a paper with the same goal in mind.

Google’s AI arm has been trying to crack general intelligence since it was founded in 2011, often through playing games.

Under Demis Hassabis, who was a child prodigy in chess and previously an AI programmer for Lionhead Studios, a British video games developer, the company pursued Go. It made headlines this March when its AI software AlphaGo beat Go mastermind Lee Sedol.

Now, DeepMind is making a beeline for StarCraft. Developers from DeepMind and Blizzard Entertainment’s StarCraft II team have been working on creating an API that supports “something similar to previous bots written with a 'scripted' interface, allowing programmatic control of individual units and access to the full game state,” DeepMind said in a blog post.

The Starcraft DQN-powered AI bots will play directly from pixels; the team has created an image-based interface that allows the bot to make sense of its surroundings on the game map. The details of the game, such as unit type or unit health, will be monitored through separate “layers.” Below is a video showing off what players and bots can see.

Youtube Video

Not only has Blizzard made it simpler for researchers to build their bots, it’ll be easier to test them too, with something called “curriculum scenarios.” The scenarios are a series of tasks that get progressively harder for the AI gaming bot to complete, and they act as a “benchmark” for algorithms.

More interestingly, researchers will also be able to create their own scenarios using the editing tools in StarCraft II. Many researchers recognize the potential of using games as a test bed for AI. Navigating virtual environments effectively could lead to potential applications in real life. It’s an area that DeepMind is also interested in, and it has attempted to apply simple AI software to robots.

Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI research director, welcomed using StarCraft II as a way for researchers to advance AI.

“One of the best ways to accelerate AI research is to improve the quality and diversity of environments in which to test algorithms. Making StarCraft more widely available will aid the research community," Sutskever told The Register.

“Solving the game requires computers to be able to plan ahead, deal with uncertainty and imagine possible outcomes – these are all open problems that OpenAI and other organizations are working on. We think surprising breakthroughs will happen as researchers can start testing their algorithms on new games." ®

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