Microsoft to make Minecraft an advanced AI playground

14 Mar 2016

Loved by millions around the world as a game and as a creative way to learn how to code, Minecraft will become an advanced AI playground for developers this July.

If we’ve learned anything about Minecraft in the last few years it is that what was once considered a sandbox game – in which you are let free to do whatever you want – is now considered as valuable as a textbook in school.

Having been used as a fun way to teach kids how to design their own creations and learn the code for how to build them, it now seems that its parent company, Microsoft, has even bigger plans in store for it.

According to the BBC, Microsoft has issued a call for AI developers to use Minecraft to develop research simulations using the game, which it claims will be a lot cheaper and “more sophisticated” than creating a physical robot.

Modded version of the game

Rather than using the Minecraft most familiar to its players, developers would use a modified version that will include an open-source software platform called AIX.

This gives the AI creation the ability to take control of characters in the game all within the confines of the developers’ own networks and not while connected to the internet, however, eventually the AI creations could be unleashed to interact with human players.

Speaking of why it would prove a good platform for AIs, Microsoft says that it will give it a first-person perspective, unlike other platforms.

“So, rather than have a situation where the AI sees an avatar of itself, it can actually be inside, looking out through the eyes of something that is living in the world,” says Microsoft.

“We think this is an essential part of building this kind of general intelligence.”

Robotics testing in the virtual world

While aimed at every application of AI, Microsoft sees robotics testing as its end goal for AIX: “We see this as a stepping stone to technology that will eventually be applied to robotics, but that we can first explore in a safer environment that we completely control and is very cheap to run.”

With researchers able to access the AIX platform from July this year, one researcher who has already gotten access to it, Prof Jose Hernandez-Orallo from the Technical University of Valencia, has been praising it.

“At this moment, there is nothing comparable, and this is just in its beginnings, so I see many possibilities for it,” he said.

Minecraft image via Mike Prosser/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic