Microsoft Challenges Researchers to Create Minecraft Bot as Smart as Libratus

March 17th, 2017 | by Brian Corlisse

When Libratus beat four poker pros, it not only hailed a big step forward for artificial intelligence (AI) technology but it inspired a new wave of innovations.

Microsoft Minecraft bot.

Microsoft is giving AI researchers the chance to win $20,000 by creating a Minecraft bot as smart as Libratus. (Image: minecraft.net)

The quest to create truly intelligent computers capable of human-like thought has been one that scientists, engineers and math experts have been pursuing for the best part of six decades.

The fruits of this cumulative research blossomed in 2017 when Carnegie Mellon University’s poker bot proved the computers can now play No Limit Hold’em at an elite level.

Poker Bot Inspires Microsoft

Following on from Libratus’s victory over Dong Kim, Jimmy Chou, Jason Les and Daniel McAulay, Microsoft has joined the race to create super-smart computers. Seeing the success of Libratus in the game of poker, Microsoft is now offering researchers the chance to win $20,000 if they can build a bot that can crack Minecraft.

Project Malmo, which Microsoft brands as a “sophisticated AI experimentation platform”, has been in operation since 2015. The idea of the project is to advance the capabilities of AI by using the online game Minecraft.

At its core, Minecraft is a game where players have to build structures and explore virtual environments in order to complete tasks. Taking this, Microsoft has created a special overlay that allows researchers to test out bots that have the ability to mimic the moves made by human players.

“Unlike other computer games, Minecraft offers its users endless possibilities, ranging from simple tasks, like walking around looking for treasure, to complex ones,” says Microsoft on its Project Malmo blog page.

Minecraft Poses Endless Problems for AI

Unlike games such as chess where mathematicians have been able to work with a fixed amount of variables in order to calculate the most effective moves, Minecraft has no fixed parameters.

Much like No Limit Hold’em where a player needs to consider a large number of unknown variables before making a move, Minecraft players have to do the same.

Because of this, it’s gradually become a hotbed for AI research and led Microsoft to set researchers a new challenge on March 14, 2017. With Libratus showing that AI is undoubtedly capable of cracking complex tasks, Microsoft wants PhD researchers to create bots that can co-operate with humans.

Unlike Libratus that was taking human moves and finding a way to beat them, Microsoft wants the Minecraft bots to take the human input and work alongside it. Participants will be randomly assigned a human partner and the three best AI programs will win $20,000 each.

Although Microsoft’s challenge might not offer the same amount of drama as the Libratus/human showdowns, the resulting research could help create an even more skilled poker bot in the future.

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