Courtesy of Microsoft

Facebook researchers have taken on an exciting new challenge in developing artificial intelligence (AI) assistant that can understand a broad range of commands. And the best part is, they’re doing it by using one of the world’s most popular games.

AI outperforms humans in a variety of fields, from playing chess to facial recognition, to math and simple, repetitive tasks. However, the Verge report that AI and machine learning (ML) still have a long way to go, as most systems can only perform one particular task at a time. The next goal for AI is to create a system that can tackle multiple tasks efficiently rather than being perfect at just one.

Enter Arthur Szlam and his colleagues at Facebook, as they showcase their work on an assistant bot that can be trained within Minecraft. Their interest is in the gap of AI abilities, hoping to increase competency across a large number of simpler tasks, instead of just superhuman performance on a single one.

And as you can see below, the results are already impressive. The bot replies to humans in a seemingly “human” fashion, while understanding commands such as “come here” or “build a circle.” While these may seem like simple tasks, it still requires a significant amount of training. First, the bot has to understand what a circle is in the context of Minecraft, given that the game is made from blocks and a perfect circle cannot be made; and second, it also needs to understand where the player is pointing.

The researchers believe that Minecraft is the perfect environment for AI to learn, as the game itself is relatively easy. In fact, anybody can pick it up, but it contains hidden depths of creativity and variety. Players can tame animals, build houses, interact with villagers, and even visit different dimensions, all of which follow a certain set of rules. The combination of simplicity and variety makes for a perfect environment to train AI.

“Since we work in a game environment, players may enjoy interacting with the assistants as they are developed, yielding a rich resource for human-in-the-loop research,” the researchers write. However, given the vast majority of potential block formations and arrangements within Minecraft, the researchers expect that the requests made to the AI assistant will likely only be concentrated on a tiny fraction of what’s possible within the game.

It should be noted that AI has long been thrown into the gaming environment, as most games already use some form of AI to enhance the player experience, or to help design gameplay systems. However, the use of AI is evolving, and this is certainly evident by the sheer number of AI courses featured on Udemy that cater to game developers and designers. This has enabled creative gameplay mechanics to emerge in recent years, with Game Skinny highlighting some of the best applications of AI. The most popular way it has been used is to build better in-game companions or smarter enemies that react to the player’s movements. Facebook’s assistant bot is bound to be one of many projects that attempt to maximize AI’s potential and push its limits in the gaming industry.

Seeing as Facebook is also working on another project with Ubisoft related to Virtual Reality, it’s safe to say that the social media giant will have more surprises up its sleeve in the years to come. However, whatever end goal it has for the Minecraft bot, any results will be an exciting achievement for the AI community, and the Minecraft fans as well.


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