Minecraft is a proving ground for artificial intelligence with Project AIX

At the Microsoft Research lab in New York City (NYC), computer scientists are busy trying to develop Project AIX using Minecraft. Project AIX is based on a platform developed by Katja Hofmann and her Machine Learning and Perception team members at Microsoft Research’s Cambridge lab in the UK.

Currently, computer scientists are using Project AIX to manipulate an artificial intelligence (AI) agent to use a Minecraft character to climb to the top of the virtual world. In Minecraft, it is relatively simple for any human to climb or construct anything the human mind can imagine; getting AI to do the same thing is a different story altogether.

Microsoft Research is also using Project AIX for other research projects at Microsoft. Project AIX is currently only available as a private beta to a handful of researchers at Microsoft, but there are plans to have Project AIX be made available as open-source sometime in Summer 2016.

Hofmann came up with the idea for Project AIX after becoming frustrated with the restrictions and limitations of other AI research games available at Microsoft. Hofmann found that Minecraft is the perfect environment to test out Project AIX because of its sandbox style of gameplay:

“Minecraft is the perfect platform for this kind of research because it’s this very open world. You can do survival mode, you can do ‘build battles’ with your friends, you can do courses, you can implement our own games. This is really exciting for artificial intelligence because it allows us to create games that stretch beyond current abilities.”

AI researchers have been able to teach computers to do very complex things that humans might not be able to do, but have been unable to teach them to learn and make decisions like humans.  “General intelligence,” as its called, is the complex way that humans learn and make decisions by using the stimuli around us, like light, smell, sound, pain, empathy; everything that makes a human, a human.

The Project AIX platform is a mod for the Java version and code that helps artificial intelligence agents sense and act within the Minecraft environment. These two components run on Windows 10, Linux or Mac OS, and researchers are able to program AI agents in any programming language they choose.

Matthew Johnson, development lead on Project AIX, who also works in Microsoft’s UK lab, noted that the platform is developed for academic researchers and intended for various forms of AI research and not intended to be a consumer product. Project AIX’s focus is to test theories and concepts of AI research, before applying any of them for real-world use.

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