Microsoft has announced the availability of the source code behind Project Malmo, which will enable Minecraft users to experiment with artificial intelligence.
Project Malmo was first introduced in March. The platform was created with the intention of transforming the world of Minecraft into a testing platform for advanced AI research so programmers of all levels could experiment on GitHub with an open-source license.
Since its initial launch, the system was limited to a small group of computer scientists in private preview. Researchers used Project Malmo to create sophisticated and more general AI that could perform complex tasks like learning, making decisions, and holding conversations.
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In a blog post on the general availability of Project Malmo, Microsoft senior writer and editor Alison Linn explained how creating this type of AI is critical to building systems that can augment human intelligence.
Given enough time, these systems may be able to perform everyday tasks like cooking or life-saving tasks like emergency room operations.
Today's researchers have already created tools to comprehend human language. For example, systems can understand when people ask for directions or need help with answering a question.
However, modern artificial intelligence is not yet complex enough to understand the meaning behind the audio waves. Teaching AI to understand humans, in the way we understand one another, is a prominent goal of today's AI research.
"We've trained the artificial intelligence to identify patterns in the dictation, but the underlying technology doesn't have any understanding of what those words mean," said Kayla Hofmann, researcher in Microsoft's Cambridge, UK-based research lab. "They're just statistical patterns, and there's no connection to any experience."
Project Malmo will help AI researchers create new approaches to reinforcement learning, said Hofmann. In this sector of AI, agents are allowed room for trial and error so they can learn how to perform different tasks.
"We're trying to put out the tools that will allow people to make progress on those really, really hard research questions," Hofmann explained.
The public rollout of Project Malmo will give computer scientists the ability to create bots that can communicate with humans and with one another. The platform can also be used to teach AI to "craft," that is, use tools to build objects like a table.
Intelligence will be able to perform a range of other tasks we may want them to perform someday in real life. For example, AI will be able to navigate mazes without running into obstacles or create structures using blocks.
So far, researchers who have participated in the Project Malmo preview say the immersive world of Minecraft is suited for AI research, because there are numerous possibilities for exploration and working together.
Microsoft notes this kind of trial-and-error research is based on the success of small victories. This is why the public launch of Project Malmo comes with a new feature called Overclocking, which will let people run experiments faster than the typical speed in the world of Minecraft.
Overclocking will let researchers receive results more quickly and make the necessary changes that will lead to progress.