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Microsoft is making Minecraft a testing ground for AI experiments Mojang

Microsoft will let researchers use Minecraft as a testing ground for artificial intelligence in the hopes that the video game's virtual open-world will help teach AI programmes to better think for themselves.

The idea, developed by Microsoft's Cambridge lab, is attempting to "program AI to learn, as opposed to programming it to accomplish specific tasks". The open-world nature of Minecraft is the perfect platform to let AI programmes loose on, and let them learn to cope with complex choices and determine for themselves what information is important and what is not.

"This is really exciting for artificial intelligence because it allows us to create games that stretch beyond current abilities," said Katja Hofmann, a researcher at the lab's machine learning and perception group.

A specially-coded version of the game that allows artificial intelligence agents to navigate its environment will be released as an open-source licence available from Q3 2016 and hopes to attract a broad range of testers to its AIX platform to test out their AI skills. The platform is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems and lets researchers code their AI in their programming language of choice.

Hofmann explained that while AI researchers were able to programme AI systems to do certain tasks very well, they haven't yet been able to combine them to simulate the way humans process the world around them by taking in multiple inputs at once.

"The things that seem really easy for us are actually the things that are really difficult for an artificial intelligence," added principle researcher Robert Schapire.

Evelyne Viegas, director of artificial intelligence outreach at Microsoft Research, said: "We're looking for opportunities where we can really help accelerate the pace of artificial intelligence innovation in a way that is going to be very close to the real world, with real experiences and real data."

With artificial intelligence getting smarter everyday thanks to projects such as IBM's Watson, self-driving cars and Google's DeepMind hopefully the integration AI to Minecraft's huge sandbox will lead to breakthroughs in further real-world applications.