HomeTechnologyPodcast: How video games train AI to be taught for itself

Podcast: How video games train AI to be taught for itself

From chess to Jeopardy to e-sports, AI is more and more beating people at their very own video games. However that was by no means the final word aim. On this first episode of season three of In Machines We Belief, we dig into the symbiotic relationship between video games and AI. We meet the massive gamers within the area, and we make a journey to an arcade.

On this episode we meet:

  • Julian Togelius, Affiliate Professor, Division of Pc Science and Engineering, New York College
  • Will Douglas-Heaven, Senior Editor for AI, MIT Know-how Overview
  • David Silver, Principal Analysis Scientist at DeepMind, Professor at College School London.
  • David Fahri, Lead Researcher, Open AI

To make this episode, we additionally spoke to Natasha Regan, Actuary at RPC Tyche, Chess WIM and co-author of “Recreation Changer”.

Sounds from:


This episode was reported by Jennifer Robust and Will Douglas Heaven and produced by Anthony Inexperienced, Emma Cillekens and Karen Hao. We’re edited by Niall Firth, Michael Reilly and Mat Honan. Our combine engineer is Garret Lang. Sound design and music by Jacob Gorski.

Full transcript:

[TR ID] 

[SOT: Jeopardy announces Watson Challenge]

Trebeck: At this time we’re saying a Jeopardy competitors not like something we now have ever offered earlier than.

Jennifer: Ten years in the past, the tv quiz present Jeopardy unveiled a brand new participant…

Trebeck: It is an exhibition match that includes two of the best jeopardy gamers in historical past… their challenger? Properly, his identify is Watson. 

Documentary Announcer: [music] Watson is an IBM pc designed to play Jeopardy. Watson understands pure language with all its ambiguity and complexity.” 

Jennifer: And maybe not surprisingly… provided that enjoying Jeopardy is the factor it was designed to do… Watson was good. Actually good.

[SOT: Montage of Watson Jeopardy answers.]

Trebek: “Watson.”

Watson: “What’s istanbul.”

Trebek: “You’re proper.”

Trebek: “Watson.”

Watson: “What’s parlement.” 

Trebek: “Proper.”

Trebek: “Watson.”

Watson: “What’s historic greek.”

Trebek: “Watson, again to you.”

Jennifer: After three nights of this, Watson gained… beating the 2 finest gamers within the sport present’s historical past… From chess to Jeopardy to e-sports… AI is thrashing people at their very own video games… (so to talk)… however that was by no means the final word aim. Researchers are attempting to construct clever methods which are extra helpful and basic function than something we now have.

David Silver: If the human mind can resolve every kind of various duties, can we construct packages that may do the identical factor? 

Jennifer: I’m Jennifer Robust and this episode we dig into the symbiotic relationship between video games and AI. As a result of for so long as there’s been AI analysis, video games have been part of it. We meet the massive gamers within the area… and we make a journey to an arcade. 

Recreation sounds

Karen Hao: In a manner, video games have over-hyped AI capabilities just a little bit, as a result of..

Jennifer: That’s my colleague Karen Hao… 

Karen Hao: Lots of people now imagine that AI is way more succesful than it really is, however video games are literally an illustration of extremely slim intelligence. And we’re now sort of trapped on this cycle the place AI analysis is particularly happening this path of an increasing number of superior video games with out really going to an increasing number of superior, advanced real-world conditions, environments…which is what we really want.

Recreation sounds


OC:…you’ve reached your vacation spot.

Julian Togelius: Video games have been part of AI since AI began, or like for the reason that very thought of AI began.

Jennifer: Julian Togelius is a professor and pc scientist residing in New York Metropolis… 

Julian Togelius: I work on AI for making video games higher and in addition video games for making AI higher. 

Jennifer: He’s giving me a historical past lesson on this relationship between video games and AI… and one way or the other, he manages to do it whereas additionally enjoying just a few video video games that he’s been working with.

Julian Togelius: I notably work with the video video games and form of fashionable video video games as a result of actually chess and Go and all that… I imply, we’re form of achieved with that. It is like, I imply, [laughter] to not discourage people who like enjoying chess and like enjoying Go or poker for the psychological problem. That is positive. However you already know, there are such a lot of extra potentialities, so many extra attention-grabbing challenges within the different video games.

Jennifer: How did you get into this subject?

Julian Togelius: Yeah. So when my mother gave my cats away, [laughter] It is true! I imply, she, she acquired allergic and so what are you going to do? So she gave me a pc earlier than a Commodore 64, and I began enjoying all these video games and I acquired actually fascinated by these little, little worlds. After which I grew up… nicely, kind of. [laughter] Uh, I grew up, I completed highschool. I began finding out philosophy and psychology. I used to be thinking about, how does the thoughts work? What’s the relationship of consciousness and intelligence and the way does all of it come about? 

Jennifer: These questions introduced him to an early paper by the pioneering pc scientist Alan Turing… He was the primary to show that constructing a pc was even mathematically doable.

Julian Togelius: That paper is basically about video games. It is concerning the Imitation Recreation, what’s now referred to as a Turing Check, the place you attempt to inform whether or not somebody you are chatting with basically – it wasn’t referred to as chatting within the fifties – whether or not somebody you’re speaking by way of textual content to is a pc or a human. It is also about chess. As a result of chess turned very early on a core focus of synthetic intelligence analysis.  

Jennifer: We predict of people that play chess as having a sure degree of intelligence … and so the sport turned a technique to gauge how clever machines are too. 

And… enjoyable truth? The very first chess enjoying program was written earlier than a pc even existed to run it. Turing performed it in 1950…utilizing an algorithm labored out on paper.

(It didn’t work very nicely.)

However individuals continued to advance this analysis for many years.  

After which, in 1997, I-B-M’s Deep Blue pc beat Garry Kasparov… the reigning world champion of chess. 

[SOT] – Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov in Recreation Six by way of YouTube

Commentator 2: Are we lacking one thing on the chessboard now that Kasparov sees? He doesn’t look.. he appears to be like disgusted actually.  

Commentator 1: Whoah! 

Commentator 2: Deep Blue! Kasparov, after the transfer C4, has resigned!


Julian Togelius: And this was an enormous mental occasion individuals have been pondering, okay, what now? Did we simply resolve synthetic intelligence? And it seems that no, you did not as a result of this chess enjoying program could not even play checkers with out important reprogramming. It could not play Go. It could not play a lot of issues. And much more, it could not tie its shoelaces. It could not cook dinner macaroni. It could not write a love poem. It could not exit and purchase a newspaper. It could not do any of these items that people do on a regular basis. It actually might actually simply do one factor. It might play chess. It was rattling good at it, however it might actually solely play chess. 

Jennifer: So, people had solved what was believed to be the largest problem of making intelligence… however once you regarded below the hood of this system… he says It was basically only a sort of search.

Julian Togelius: What if I take this transfer? After which, what if my adversary takes this transfer, then what if I take this transfer? So we might constructed a tree of potentialities and counter potentialities and calculated from that. It was really way more difficult than that, however that is the center of what it was doing. And other people checked out it like, this does not appear to be something like how our brains work. I imply, we do not actually know the way our brains work, however, um, no matter they’re doing, it isn’t this. [laugh]

Jennifer: However it is not JUST used to play video games in opposition to people… AI exhibits up in video games in all types of how.  Particularly to make them extra attention-grabbing and difficult.

For instance…. AI adjustments components of video video games…  so that they are totally different each time we play them, and that is been the case for the reason that 19-80s.

Julian Togelius: And this precept of, like, at all times creating one thing new… and each time you play the sport it is new… has survived into lots of totally different video games. For instance, the Diablo collection of video games is predicated on that, or the Civilization collection of technique video games. Each time you play it you’ve a totally new world and that is core to the sport. It simply would not be the identical in the event you did not do this. 

Jennifer: Another excuse to do that is due to storage… and he says a sport referred to as Elite turned an vital milestone… when it was made obtainable for private computer systems, together with the Commodore 64. 

Julian Togelius: It could not presumably slot in reminiscence on this pc. So one model had 4,096 totally different star methods. Now, in the event you solely had 64,000 bytes of reminiscence and picture, consider how little that’s, that is a millionth of a pc you should purchase right this moment. So, they needed to recreate the star system each time you bought there. Mainly construct it up from scratch.

Jennifer:  And that’s nonetheless the case now. Positive, we now have way more storage. However video games are additionally a lot, a lot bigger and extra advanced. 

Julian Togelius: The sport of No Man’s Sky, which got here out 2016, however they preserve updating it – it retains getting an increasing number of spectacular. It has extra planets in it than you might ever go to in a lifetime, however it one way or the other all suits in your pc as a result of they’re recreated each time you see them. 

Jennifer: In the meantime, researchers have additionally continued to construct sport enjoying AIs… and Togelius says, one of many subsequent challenges in that area will probably be for them to play many video games without delay… as a result of multitasking is one thing people do nicely…however that’s not but the case for these methods.

So, how can we get from these extremely structured environments with a lot of predictability… to one thing nearer to actual life, which is messy and chaotic and by no means predictable.

To him and different researchers…? We play extra video games.

Julian Togelius: If we had a system that would reliably play, like with some proficiency, the highest hundred video games on a pc sport prime listing, like Steam or the AppStore or one thing, then we might have one thing akin to basic intelligence. 

Jennifer: So, in some methods… we’re nonetheless sort of the place we have been a half century in the past… pondering we would simply discover the important thing to basic intelligence with AI methods that may beat people at their very own sport. 

[beat / music]

However we additionally combine video games and AI in all types of different methods…like to assist us with coaching knowledge.

A number of years in the past I met a group at Princeton making an attempt to make cease indicators extra recognizable to self-driving automobiles… utilizing the sport, Grand Theft Auto. 

Unusual as that may sound… it’s really fairly sensible when you think about simply what number of alternative ways a driver may come throughout a cease check in the true world… be it on a stick within the floor… hanging within the air… or painted on the pavement… and we encounter them in each sort of gentle and climate… typically partially hidden by tree branches… or the darkness of evening. 

Researchers might go searching for examples of all these cease indicators… or video video games can simply generate limitless examples.

We’re additionally utilizing video games to raised perceive how algorithms make selections. 

[Start to bring in sounds from Arcade. *Frogger theme music and gameplay begins, toggle moves*] 

Jennifer: We’re at a basic arcade in Boston… as a result of it has a number of of those older video video games which are used to coach A-I methods. 

Will Douglas-Heaven: Hello, I’m Will Douglas-Heaven. I’m senior editor for AI at Know-how Overview… And I can not play Frogger. 

Will Douglas-Heaven: Frogger got here up fairly lately in some totally different AI analysis the place they have been making an attempt to get an AI to clarify itself and clarify like what it was doing. Um, they usually taught… they skilled an AI to play this sport and you already know Frogger… You may hear from the noise, I preserve failing.

So Frogger is that this sport the place you are just a little frog down the underside and you have to cross a highway that has automobiles shifting form of throughout the display left and proper , and you have to form of dodge between them. And then you definitely get to a river and also you bounce on the again of turtles and logs to get to the opposite aspect with out falling in like I did there. Um, anyway, so it is, it is a sport which has acquired like a lot of particular actions you are taking at every step. And so after they skilled the AI to do it, each time it took an motion, they acquired it to clarify in, um, form of, you already know, human comprehensible phrases why it did that.

[*Game sounds continue*] 

Jennifer: Mainly, A-I performs the sport… and over time, it really works out methods to succeed. Random strikes evolve into advanced methods… even some we did not find out about. 

[Continue games sounds underneath the VO above and also into this piece of audio]

Will Douglas-Heaven: They threw the AIs at these outdated video games and simply confirmed them the screens that that they had no thought methods to play. It was simply pixels on a display, stuff occurred. They tried issues and typically they blew up. Generally they shot the alien ships. And utilizing solely form of rewards from you already know after they did one thing, proper, the rating went up, they slowly labored out methods to play the sport. They usually went from understanding, nothing to, in lots of instances, form of beating the excessive scores of the most effective human gamers. And even some actually cool examples the place they really discovered methods to beat the sport that people hadn’t found.

Jennifer: One instance of this comes from a sport referred to as Q*Bert, which places gamers on a pyramid of squares. 

Will Douglas-Heaven:  I imply the essential thought is you have acquired this little man who jumps down the pyramid from the highest touchdown on the squares. And once you’ve modified the squares all to the identical shade, then you possibly can transfer on to the following degree. However the AI, I believe on the primary degree, modified all the colours of the squares after which saved leaping up and down the squares fairly than shifting on to the following degree. And it discovered some bug within the sport that allowed it to form of get an infinite rating in actually a brief period of time. And even the designers of the sport have been like “ I have never seen that bug  earlier than.” 

Jennifer: After the break… We’ll meet some pioneers behind main breakthroughs  on this subject. However first, I need to let you know about an occasion referred to as CyberSecure in November. It’s Tech Overview’s cybersecurity convention and I will be there with my colleagues. You may be taught extra at Cyber Safe M-I-T dot com.

We’ll be proper again… after this.


David Silver: My identify’s David Silver. I work on synthetic intelligence and I apply it to video games. I work for an organization referred to as DeepMind and our aim is to attempt to use, um, synthetic intelligence to attempt to construct a system, which has a number of the smarts which are contained in the human mind.

Jennifer: DeepMind is on the heart of this work with video games. It’s a analysis lab that’s a part of Google’s Alphabet.

David Silver: If the human mind can resolve every kind of various duties, can we construct packages that may do the identical factor? 

Jennifer: He’s the lead researcher behind a number of the finest identified AI methods that  have mastered methods to play video games… beginning with board video games, (together with the traditional Chinese language technique sport of Go.) 

David Silver: We developed a system referred to as AlphaGo, which was the primary program to have the ability to play the sport of Go on the degree of prime human skilled gamers. And actually, it was capable of beat the world champion Lee Sedol. 

David Silver: And there is this big area of video games, a lot of which have these stunning traits that permit us to actually simply dive in and perceive, you already know, one piece of the world in isolation with out having to take care of the entire immense complexity of the true world unexpectedly.

Jennifer: AlphaGo realized methods to play board video games based mostly on how individuals play.

Silver’s subsequent system, AlphaZero, realized to play board video games and video video games otherwise… by studying the foundations of a sport after which enjoying itself over and over.

David Silver: After AlphaGo, we tried to take the following step and make one thing much more basic, which was to have the ability to play not only one sport, however many video games utilizing the identical know-how. And it is a huge stepping stone as a result of it truly is making an attempt to do one of many issues which we, as individuals are capable of do, which is resolve many issues, utilizing the identical sorts of equipment inside. 

Jennifer: It is a milestone in making AI extra basic function… However with an vital caveat. The algorithm can’t be taught to play these video games unexpectedly. It’s as if it builds itself separate brains for every sport. So it has to swap out its chess mind earlier than enjoying Go. 

It’s secure to say researchers are nonetheless making an attempt to determine methods to make video games a check for actual life. As a result of video games have guidelines that may be outlined… and nobody actually is aware of the foundations by which the world works.

David Silver: The world can be a messy place. You already know, it is acquired this extremely wealthy dynamics happening, every kind of particulars in the way in which that objects transfer round. The best way that the issues we see relate to the issues that we contact. There’s simply this unbelievable richness and complexity to the true world. And we will not presumably hope to deal with that in the way in which that folks traditionally have approached video games. So what we’d like is one thing which may perceive the world for itself in a manner that sort of understands the patterns in a manner which is beneficial for it to make selections which are really significant in serving to to realize its objectives. 

Jennifer: His newest challenge known as MuZero. It excels at simply as many video games as AlphaZero… (in addition to a complete host of video video games). 

…however this method figures out methods to play with out being given any guidelines in any respect.

David Silver: So it was actually simply let unfastened. It was capable of play video games in opposition to itself. And all it acquired on the finish of the sport was a sign to say, Hey, you gained or Hey, you misplaced. And from that sign, it was capable of construct an understanding for itself of the foundations of the sport sufficient that it might really form of think about what would occur into the longer term.. And as soon as it had this skill to  think about into the longer term, it was capable of search and begin trying forward and begin pondering into the longer term and saying, aha, now I perceive how this world works. I can begin to think about what would occur if I performed this transfer or took this motion. And in order that’s actually a key step that we’d like and one thing we imagine is essential going ahead for the way forward for A-I.

Jennifer: He says it’s not not like an toddler coming to grips with the world round it… constructing downside fixing and inventive expertise, over time. 

David Silver: I believe we’re already seeing examples the place, inside constrained domains, that we see algorithms which are to all intents and functions, inventive. I imply, what’s creativity in spite of everything apart from, you already know, the power to find some new thought for itself. And I believe that is the essence of creativity. The essence of creativity is what our algorithms are doing, which is to find step-by-step one thing new and to be taught by their expertise that this new concept that they’ve provide you with is definitely one thing which is highly effective and which helps it to realize its objectives. So I believe sooner or later, we’ll see an increasing number of creativity of this way. We’ll see, you already know, machines that are capable of uncover for themselves concepts that assist them to realize objectives. Not as a result of an individual’s instructed them, that is the factor you have to obtain that aim, however as a result of they figured it out for themselves.

Jennifer: And.. that creativity has led AlphaZero to find new issues about methods to play chess. Now…. human gamers are literally adopting it in their very own video games … calling it.. “enjoying an alpha zero transfer”.

[SOT: how to play like AlphaZero]

Host: “Welcome to a different version of Methods to Assault lLike AlphaZero! I hope you’re prepared for right this moment’s lesson….”

Jennifer: That’s additionally occurring with e-sports… that are online game competitions which are usually performed in entrance of a stay viewers… much like a sporting occasion… With a worldwide viewers of almost half a billion viewers tuning in to observe their favourite video games performed by a number of the finest avid gamers on the earth. 

Right here too, AI is being utilized in a bunch of how… like teaching instruments to assist individuals get higher at enjoying… and (as soon as once more), researchers are additionally aiming to make use of e-sports to make their AI methods extra clever…  

David Farhi: We’re imagining that sooner or later there will be basic synthetic intelligence methods that may actually resolve issues rapidly, can be taught possibly on the degree of people. 

Jennifer: David Farhi is a lead researcher at Open AI… The analysis lab based by Elon Musk and a bunch of different Silicon Valley luminaries.

It created the primary system to beat world champions at an e-sports sport. 

That sport known as Protection of the Ancients 2, which everybody calls Dota 2… and there’s a brand new documentary about this win… referred to as Synthetic Gamer.

[Clip from Artificial Gamer trailer]

[Dramatic music and sounds from Dota 2 gameplay] 

Speaker 1: While you have a look at the sport of Dota, there’s 10,000 plus variables in each second that your system has to soak up.

Speaker 2: The AI learns in a really totally different manner than people. 

Speaker 3: It performs in opposition to copies of itself. Many, many instances off within the cloud..

Jennifer: Fahri oversaw the Dota 2 challenge, referred to as the Open A-I 5… and he demonstrated the way it works at Tech Overview’s A-I convention, EmTech Digital… 

[Sounds of Dota 2 gameplay via YouTube. [00:03 – 00:15] Fade in, then mattress below the next Farhi choose. *Sword combating, footsteps, and dramatic battle music.*]

David Farhi: Within the higher proper nook of this display. We see a really huge, zoomed out, view of the entire world of Dota, Within the decrease left nook there’s one group’s base. Within the higher proper nook is one other group’s base. Every group is making an attempt to maneuver their characters round, solid spells with their characters, assault the enemies and so forth to in the end invade and destroy the opposite group’s base.

David Farhi: These extra difficult methods like robotics and video video games have a unique really feel to them since you get an commentary of the state of the sport, and then you definitely select an motion to take. After which the state of the sport adjustments ultimately, relying on the motion you took. And then you definitely’ve acquired a brand new commentary and you may select a brand new motion and this loop occurs over and over and over. And so you need to make selections which have long-term penalties down the highway. So the way in which we do that is comparatively easy. Conceptually no less than. We’ve got brokers that begin out enjoying completely randomly. And we simply need to play them in opposition to themselves, a clone of themselves over and over and over.

Jennifer: And in the event you’re pondering this may take a extremely very long time with such an advanced sport? You’re not improper… however Open AI’s skill to run it on 200-thousand machines without delay… helps. 

Mainly… it’s capable of acquire about 250 years of expertise per day.

And if the system does one thing that works… it’s up to date to try this factor extra… and if one thing unhealthy occurs that doesn’t work, it does that factor much less. 

David Farhi: We began out with a restricted model of the sport. We have been ultimately capable of beat our developer group, which was very enjoyable. After which we added extra items of the sport. We went again and skilled for longer. And we have been capable of beat some amateurs after which some semi-professional people. Finally we determined to go to a big event that this sport has..

[Sounds from The International 3 (Dota tournament) via YouTube. *Crowd cheering, sports commentators shouting excitedly, Dota gameplay.*] 

Sportscaster: It might be their final stand. [inaudible]

Sportscaster: He is gonna attempt to focus all people however there’s a lot stuff. 

Sportscaster: There isn’t any extra clips obtainable. All the way down to about half HP. 

Sportscaster: 1 / 4 HP. A lion surrounding from all sides! EKB! Sportscaster: They gained the spherical! They’re gonna do it! 

Sportscaster: The kings of the north! Alliance wins! They win TI 3. 

Sportscaster: The Alliance simply gained 1.4 million {dollars}! 

Sportscaster: They’re your Worldwide 3 champions! 

David Farhi: So this sport has thousands and thousands of human customers who compete in these  tournaments for big prizes, which ensures that we all know there are people who’re enjoying at a really, very excessive degree of ability. In August of 2018, we took our agent to this event. 

Jennifer: Their AI performed in opposition to two skilled groups that had already been eradicated from the event… and narrowly misplaced. However the next yr, with extra coaching, the AI was capable of beat the previous world champions 2 – 0.

David Farhi: So OpenA-I 5 is skilled with no people within the coaching course of, so it simply performs in opposition to itself in these cloud servers again and again and over and over. After which once we need to play it in opposition to a human, we take a snapshot out of the cloud and play it in opposition to the human, however we by no means feed that knowledge again into the coaching course of.


Jennifer:  However there’s nonetheless this query of whether or not video games may help us prepare AI to be extra helpful. 

Proper now, we now have methods which are extraordinarily good at one factor. However we do not but have fashions that may do a lot of issues without delay. 

As soon as once more, my colleague Will Douglas Heaven.

Will Douglas-Heaven: The trick goes to be, I believe stepping again from constructing AI’s that, excel at particular methods or strategies, or have a superb workaround for this specific rule or transfer, you already know, the sort of factor that we have been seeing in these AIs that may be taught to play video games. 

Jennifer: To actually perceive the following stage of this analysis… It is perhaps useful to consider the way in which children play on a playground. 

Will Douglas-Heaven: They don’t seem to be enjoying a sport that has any form of actual set guidelines. I imply, they could make them up as they go alongside, however, you already know, they’re simply exploring, making an attempt stuff in and out a really form of pure and open-ended manner. And there’s no particular aim that they are working in direction of. And I believe it is this sort of approach, which continues to be a sort of play, that we’ll see, you already know, actually push issues ahead once we discuss basic intelligence. Deepmind, for instance, just a few months in the past launched a digital playground. It is form of like a online game world referred to as X Land. And it is populated by a bunch of little bots. And the neat factor right here is that X Land itself is managed by an AI or form of like a video games grasp that rearranges the setting, rearranges the obstacles and the blocks and the balls the little bots get to play with, and in addition comes up with totally different guidelines on the fly. So, easy video games like tag or cover and search, and the bots simply need to work out, you already know, methods to play these. You already know what objects in that digital world will assist them to do it. They usually be taught basic expertise like exploring, simply making an attempt stuff out And I believe this sort of open-ended exploration goes to be key for the following era of AI. And it is sort of thrilling that the [00:09:00] subsequent wave of AI, the AIs which are going to be good at a number of issues, [00:09:03] We // nonetheless may get there by video games once more. So video games aren’t going wherever. Video games have been with AI for the reason that starting. And you already know, it is good to see that play continues to be maybe one of the simplest ways of studying. 


Jennifer: This episode was reported by me and Will Douglas-Heaven… and produced by Anthony Inexperienced, Emma Cillekens and Karen Hao. We’re edited by Niall Firth, Michael Reilly and Mat Honan. Our combine engineer is Garret Lang… with sound design and music by Jacob Gorski. 

Thanks for listening, I’m Jennifer Robust. 


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