Playing Games with AI That Play Games

Games with AIOne of my New Years Resolutions is, rather strangely, to play more computer games. I used to play quite a bit when I was younger (original SimCity and Doom anyone?) but haven’t in a while because of the usual pressure of time and the guilt associated with the activity when (surely?) I could be doing something more productive. But we all need to relax and immerse ourselves in something not related to work every once in a while.

Which is one of the advantages highlighted in this article from How Do We Get To Next, which looks at the therapeutic benefits of AI and games. Apparently engaging in games “helps us regulate our emotions, reduce stress, increase our self-esteem, and socialise”. The article gives examples of games specifically designed for self-care, but my favourite example is another one called Sea Hero Quest, which has been designed to help treat dementia. It’s a smartphone game that provides data on spatial awareness and other cognitive aspects for dementia researchers – the more you play, the more data you create. (Another good example is Eyewire which is a game which helps map the human brain).

There is obviously a darker side to gaming, as this piece from WaPo​ on addiction makes very clear (especially the bit where the psychotherapist describes a child patient who can’t tell the difference between the game and real life) so we do have to be careful in what we promote, but the more positive examples there are out there the better.

The flip-side of using gaming for health-enabling technology is to use gaming to help create the technology in the first place. In a separate article, the How Do We Get To Next guys explain that “AI researchers are beginning to recognise that their creations benefit just as much as children do from a playground, where they can learn how to behave in the world.” DeepMind have used this approach extensively to test their reinforcement learning AI systems, initially on Breakout, then Space Invaders and finally (and triumphantly) on Go. AIs are now playing each other at Doom (better than I ever could) and Microsoft have developed a version of Minecraft which helps AIs learn to collaborate. Of course, the game environment is a perfect way to train AIs, especially those with ambitions to do more than one narrowly focused thing. They are also useful for collecting data as well: one example from the article describes how a tech firm used Grand Theft Auto V to train an AI to identify objects in the road so that it could be used in real driverless cars. It seems like there is a genuine symbiosis between gaming and AI; perhaps the next thing will be AIs using computer games to help them relax after a hard days training…


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