In 2014, Microsoft acquired the Swedish game development studio Mojang, best known for its work on Minecraft for $2.5 billion with a plan for the tech giant to break into the mobile gaming industry. Since then, Microsoft has been pushing the popular game Minecraft in new and diverse directions, and has recently started a partnership with Code.org to teach kids to code by using the virtual world of Minecraft. Later on, after the acquisition of MinecraftEdu, Microsoft released a brand new version of the game for schools.
Now developers at Microsoft have been working hard on a new platform called AIX to train an artificial intelligence object to learn how to climb a hill in the game, writes Abhimanyu Ghoshal of the The Next Web News. According to Leo Kelion of the BBC, it will turn Minecraft into a testing platform for artificial intelligence trials.
Microsoft officially confirmed that computer experts and amateurs will have access to the AI software using its virtual environment as of July. Microsoft also added that Minecraft was much more "sophisticated" than the rest of the AI research simulations available on the market. In addition to that, it was also cheaper than constructing a robot.
Prof. Jose Hernandez-Orallo from the Technical University of Valencia, who is a part of a small team of academics awarded early access to the AI software, commented:
"This is the state-of-the-art. At this moment, there is nothing comparable, and this is just in its beginnings, so I see many possibilities for it."
The users will have to install AIX — a software platform that integrates with Minecraft — and use the artificial intelligence code to control a character and receive feedback about the results of its actions.
AIX will be open source, confirmed Microsoft, meaning that the only cost involved will be that of purchasing the standard game license. As Paul Sawers of Venture Beat writes, the lack of additional costs will make the platform available to anyone. This approach will bring hundreds or thousands of researchers testing and experiment with the AIX to make it better with each using their own code.
In an interview with Jon Russell of Tech Crunch, project leader Katja Hofmann commented that Minecraft was the best platform for exploring and developing AI. Its openness and creativity offer more possibilities for working with AI than any other existing software, in his view. In Minecraft, users can play in survival mode, join battles with peers, take courses or even implement their own games, added Hofmann. According to her, this made the artificial intelligence exciting, with the possibility to create games that are far beyond current capabilities.
The aim of Microsoft is not just to present the new AI to sophisticated groups of scientific researchers and top-notch IT experts, confirmed the company. It would like to invite people of all ages and backgrounds to take part in development.
Microsoft expects AIX to be especially interesting for children, who will play and learn at the same time, and it could also boost their interest in artificial intelligence and help them choose a career path in the field.