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Facebook has built a world-class, murderous, Doom-playing AI (FB)


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Researchers from Facebook have built a highly efficient piece of artificial intelligence (AI), programmed to slaughter anything in its path.

Luckily, it can only play "Doom".

A team from the social network blasted its way to glory this week in a contest to build programs capable of autonomously playing the classic first-person shooter game.

Called VizDoom, it's an irreverent test of skill for AI researchers, focused on eight-player deathmatches. Think your software is smart? Prove it: Defeat your rivals in a bloody eight-player shoot-out.

(Engadget's Aaron Soupporis has talked to some of the human teams, and written a deep dive on their strategies and the outcome of the matches.)

AI, of wildly varying levels of sophistication, has been in games since the earliest days of the medium. But what sets VizDoom apart is the kind of input the AI competitors are given. Traditionally, computer-controlled entities will be fed a stream of incomprehensible (in human terms) data: Coordinates, shifting variables, internal data (like maps) and so on, which they respond to according to preset rules.

In contrast, the VizDoom competitors are only given access to the "screen buffer"— AKA the contents of the computer screen — for it to decide what to do, in the same way human players do. And the competing AI's also "learn" via constant reinforcement, adapting their strategies over time as they figure out what works and what doesn't.

In short, it's forced to play exactly as a human does.

There were two categories of play in the competition: Facebook's F1 team won the first, and chipmaker Intel's IntelAct team won the second.

The one that Facebook won was simpler. It's a deathmatch that takes place on a map that AI competitors have played on and trained on in advance, with only one weapon available — the rocket launcher. Ammo and medkits (health) are scattered around to collect as required.

You can watch them battle in the video below. By and large, they're pretty good.

But the second is more complex — and makes Intel's achievement especially impressive. It takes place on a map the AI's haven't previously ever seen before, with a variety of mystery weapons and items in. The competitors can't just put their pre-match training into effect — they have to actively learn the map in their battle for supremacy.

As you can see in the video below, this is where the competitors' failings become more apparent. PotatoesArePrettyOx (in the top right) struggles to walk in a straight line — when it's not just shooting the wall.

On first glance, Intel's and Facebook's achievements seem both impressive, and slightly pointless. But you have to remember that this isn't really about Doom. The teams are stacked with incredibly sophisticated researchers, at the cutting edge of AI development. Just like Google DeepMind's successes playing boardgame Go, VizDoom is an accessible way to demonstrate to the world the nascent possibilities of artificial intelligence tech — and also encourage friendly rivalries between professionals at different companies.

But that said, developing AI designed to destroy everything it sees with explosives in the most efficient way possible won't do much to assuage the fears of people worried about the rise of "killer robots."

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