Minecraft is to become a testing ground for AI experiments. Microsoft revealed that computer scientists and amateurs will be able to evaluate and develop AI software using its virtual landscapes from July. The company says Minecraft is more "sophisticated" than existing AI research simulations and cheaper than building a robot.
"This is the state-of-the-art," said Prof Jose Hernandez-Orallo from the Technical University of Valencia, one of a small group of academics given early access to the software.
"At this moment there is nothing comparable, and this is just in its beginnings, so I see many possibilities for it."
To take advantage of the offer, users will need to install AIX – a software platform that hooks into Minecraft and allows the artificial intelligence code to control a character and get feedback about the consequences of its actions. AIX will be open source, meaning the only cost involved will be that of buying a standard licence for the game.
The experiments will run on the researchers’ own computers and be "roped off" from normal players. However, in time the aim is to allow people to interact with the code.
"People build amazing structures that do amazing things in Minecraft, and this allows experimenters to put in tasks that will stretch AI technology beyond its current capacity," explained Katja Hofmann, who leads the project at Microsoft Research’s Cambridge lab in the UK.
"But eventually, we will be able to scale this up further to include tasks that allow AI agents to learn to collaborate with humans and support them in a creative manner.
"This provides a way to take AI from where it is today up to human-level intelligence, which is where we want to be, in several decades time."