Building Collaborative AI by Catching Minecraft Pigs | TechWell

Building Collaborative AI by Catching Minecraft Pigs


Will artificial intelligence move beyond buzzwords and gadgets to become truly useful in our everyday lives? For that to happen, industry experts say artificial intelligence (AI) must have the ability to collaborate and work with other agents and humans in order to function in complex environments. At Microsoft, one approach AI researchers are taking involves creepers, endermen, zombies, skeletons, Iron Golems and, yes, those pigs. If you’re a Minecraft fan, then using it as a study environment should make research more fun.

Microsoft created Project Malmo, a platform that uses the popular video game Minecraft, as a tool for advanced artificial intelligence research. According to Microsoft, one of the main challenges in collaborative AI research involves agents learning to recognize someone else’s intent, what behaviors are helpful, and how to coordinate or communicate with others to best solve the problem at hand.

The recent Project Malmo Collaborative AI Challenge focused on training intelligent agents to collaborate. In a mini-game within the Minecraft world, the basic concept involved two Minecraft agents and a pig in a meadow. The agents either catch the pig (pinch or corner the pig, no escape path) and receive a high reward or give up and leave the pig pen for a small reward.

More than 80 teams of postgraduate students from around the world participated. Each team submitted their code to GitHub and created a video showing their agent in action. The Microsoft Research Blog has details on who caught the pig. Microsoft says the contest showed promise for future research efforts and provided some lessons learned:

  • No single approach was clearly better than the others.

  • Many teams were successful by incorporating both classic AI approaches and newer models.

  • Figuring out what question to ask next—and adjusting to new information—helped identify promising directions for future research efforts.

  • Everything matters, such as problem analysis, coding efficiency, and fine tuning.

If you would like to try Project Malmo, it’s available on GitHub:

And, if there are any future coders in your house, here’s a fun first step coding in Minecraft: the Microsoft and Minecraft Hour of Code tutorial

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