StarCraft II Becomes DeepMind AI Research Playground

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After mastering the game of Go, Google's DeepMind is trying its hand at StarCraft.

The sci-fi real-time strategy series from Blizzard debuted in 1998, and was followed up in 2010 with StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. Now, Google and Blizzard have partnered to allow DeepMind's artificial intelligence and machine-learning researchers to use Wings of Liberty as a research playground.

"DeepMind is on a scientific mission to push the boundaries of AI, developing programs that can learn to solve any complex problem without needing to be told how," research scientist Oriol Vinyals wrote in a blog post. "Games are the perfect environment in which to do this, allowing us to develop and test smarter, more flexible AI algorithms quickly and efficiently, and also providing instant feedback on how we're doing through scores."

The Google subsidiary helped lay the groundwork for the use of games as AI research platforms, including playing 2D Atari games and 3D games such as The Open Racing Car Simulator. Alongside StarCraft research there's also the upcoming DeepMind Labyrinth, which sees AI navigate a Doom-like maze like that shown in the video below:

Blizzard's StarCraft, meanwhile, provides what Vinyals calls an "interesting" setting for artificial intelligence exploration "because it provides a useful bridge to the messiness of the real world," he wrote.

"The skills required for an agent to progress through the environment and play StarCraft well could ultimately transfer to real-world tasks," the blog post said.

For the uninitiated, StarCraft focuses on three interstellar species, each with their own abilities and gameplay approaches. Players must gather minerals and gas to produce new buildings and units. But each opponent can see only part of the in-game map, forcing players to scout unseen areas, gain information about their competitor, and remember details over a long period of time.

Google worked with the StarCraft II team at Blizzard to develop an API (sneak peek in the first video above), and create a "curriculum" of scenarios.

"While we're still a long way from being able to challenge a professional human player at the game of StarCraft II, we hope that the work we have done with Blizzard will serve as a useful testing platform for the wider AI research community," Vinyals said.

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