If you haven't heard anything about Google's DeepMind Lab before, it's about time you introduced yourself to it. The major technology giant has been investigating all kinds of science-y things in the realm of technology for quite some time now. They've been working quietly, without too much fanfare outside the technological community. But now they've partnered with another tech giant, which is sure to get the video game community standing at attention.
One of Blizzard's most well known franchises after World of Warcraft is StarCraft. I can honestly remember my dad playing the original StarCraft and as a child not understanding a single moment of it. StarCraft II is the hot ticket title in the franchise nowadays, and there are thousands of people actively playing the game at any given time. It's due to this player count and the history the series already has that has led to Blizzard teaming with DeepMind.
The history I'm referring to is that of the original StarCraft. Long before StarCraft II saw the light of day, scientific experiments were happening in the original. If you can believe it, scientists have been using StarCraft to test artificial intelligence. Now it's StarCraft II's turn. Blizzard's partnership with DeepMind has brought about an application program interface for scientists, gamers, and those just looking for a hobby to utilize. The history of AI experimentation in StarCraft is now allowed to continue with the assistance of the game's creator.
This might not seem exciting to someone outside of the AI research field. What would the general layman use an AI API for? In my personal case, I'd probably boot it up to fiddle around with it. I'd poke around in some things and realize that it's far out of my current knowledge base. At that point a crucial decision would come about as to whether I would want to pursue more information on AI or if I just want to go back to gaming as usual. No matter the choice that I as a general gamer make, there are others within the field that will be utilizing the program for its intended purpose.
With the program that Blizzard and DeepMind have co-created, scientists and researchers will be able to utilize anonymous game replays and live matches to learn more about AI. The game replays will allow them to see how artificial intelligences have already responded to certain parameters. And live matches will give them the chance to try out new scenarios. This is all well and good for them, but what does it mean for us, the general gamer?
Are we headed towards a future where artificial intelligences create their own languages and our world as we know it comes to an end? According to science fiction, that very well may still come to pass. But the point I'm getting at rather is a future of more engaging, immersive, and difficult gaming. When artificial intelligences advance, so our gaming experience does too. Think back to any NPC in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that you hated. I'll use Lydia as an example. It was not unusual for her to completely disappear on me, and I'd come to find that she was stuck running against a rock formation because she couldn't find her way around it. That, and her incessant lines of dialogue would get boring every single time I had to “trade” items with her. Updated AIs would certainly resolve the first issue with no trouble. It could even potentially remedy the second issue with time.
News of artificial intelligence research may scare some people and conjure images of A Space Odyssey's Hal. But for me, it's a beacon of a bright future for gaming. Better AI will only benefit the gaming industry in the future. The research findings may benefit other technology spheres of our world, but gaming is truly where there's nothing to lose. If an AI attempts to strongman a video game, it only works to your benefit if you're looking for a challenging experience. Rather than jump to conclusions of mayhem and chaos, we should look at AI research as a journey into a new land. It's an educational trek we can make without even leaving our desks. The advancements to the technology that come from partnerships like Blizzard and DeepMind will make our gaming experiences even better.
Are you an AI fear-monger or do you relish in the knowledge that artificial intelligences are getting smarter every day? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!