Embodied AI

I’ve thought for quite a while that some of the critical paths forward in building systems that learn need more complexity and variables in their world. A couple of weekends ago a friend passed me an article on Engadget about an AI contest set in Doom. Given the recent exemplary advances of systems learning to play Nintendo games, it’s a natural successor – that and I think there’s a lot of social overlap bewteen people interested in building AI systems and those who enjoy playing video games. Puzzle solvers all, on various levels.

Part of me is thrilled that we’re taking initial stabs and making challenges to extend state of the art. Another part of me is thinking “Oh great, as if this isn’t going to spread the Terminator existential fear.” I don’t really have any fear of the terminator scenario. Like some others, I think that’s at best a very distant concern in the advancement of AI, and far more driven by PR and media than the key of real issues.

I do have a deep and abiding concern of “bad actors” with the augmentation of AI at their fingertips. For the now and near future, AI is being applied as an augmentation onto people (or companies) – and their abuses of the resources could easily prove (and I think are far more likely) to be more damaging.

Although we’re both farther (and in a long term perspective it will still happen sooner than we expect) to creating a general artificial intelligence, I suspect the way it will be learn will be nearly the same way we do – partially being taught, and partially from experience. Today’s AI systems are the moral equivalent of mockingbirds – good at repeating something that already exists, but with limited capabilities in aplying innovation, or dealing with “surprise” events and learning from them.

I think a far more interesting effort in this space – not quite a click-bait worthy as AI’s playing DOOM – is what Microsoft is calling project Malmo – some mechanisms to start to provide a bit of embodiment in a world more simplified from our own: Minecraft. I haven’t seen much press about the results, contests, etc from opening up Project Malmo, but the PR and blog articles from earlier this summer point to where anyone can get started it, from their open code on github. (I’m still waiting for the Ballmer-esque world to come and take Microsoft back into the bad-ole-days and away from their renewed sanity around using and contributing to Open Source, but it seems to be sticking). I’d love to see some challenges built to Malmo, and with goals different than getting the highest kill count.

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