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DeepMind’s AI Reaches Highest Rank of StarCraft II



DeepMind’s AI Reaches Highest Rank of StarCraft II

DeepMind’s AlphaStar, an artificial intelligence (AI) system, has reached the highest level in StarCraft II, an extremely popular and complex computer game. The AI outperformed 99.8% of all registered human players.

It took the AI system 44 days of training to be able to reach the level. It used recordings of some of the best human players, and it learned from them until eventually going up against itself. 

“AlphaStar has become the first AI system to reach the top tier of human performance in any professionally played e-sport on the full unrestricted game under professionally approved conditions,” said David Silver, a researcher at DeepMind.

“Ever since computers cracked Go, chess and poker, the game of StarCraft has emerged, essentially by consensus from the community, as the next grand challenge for AI,” Silver said. “It’s considered to be the game which is most at the limit of human capabilities.”

The work was published in the scientific journal Nature

What is StarCraft?

Put simply, the point of StarCraft is to build civilizations and fight against aliens. 

It is a real-time strategy game where players control hundreds of units and have to make important economic decisions. Within the game, there are tens of thousands of time-steps and thousands of possible actions. These are selected in real-time throughout ten minutes of gameplay. 

AlphaStar “Agents”

DeepMind developed AlphaStar “Agents,” and they created one for each of the different races in the game. The different races each have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. In the “AlphaStar league,” the AI competed against itself and “exploiter” agents which targeted the weaknesses of AlphaStar. 

One of the most impressive points of the AI was that it was not developed to perform actions at superhuman speed. Instead, it learned different winning strategies. 

Just like the StarCraft game, real-world applications require artificial agents to interact, compete, and coordinate within a complex environment containing other agents. This is why StarCraft has become such an important aspect of artificial intelligence research. 

Military Interest

Perhaps one of the more unexpected aspects of this work is that it’ll be of interest to the military. 

“Military analysts will certainly be eyeing the successful AlphaStar real-time strategies as a clear example of the advantages of AI for battlefield planning. But this is an extremely dangerous idea with the potential for humanitarian disaster. AlphaStar learns strategy from big data in one particular environment. The data from conflicts such as Syria and Yemen would be too sparse to be of use,” said Noel Sharkey, a professor of AI and robotics at the University of Sheffield.

“And as DeepMind explained at a recent United Nations event, such methods would be highly dangerous for weapons control as the moves are unpredictable and can be creative in unexpected ways. This is against the laws that govern armed conflict.”

Coming a Long Way in Short Time

Back in January, professional StarCraft II player Grzegorz Komincz, defeated AlphaStar in the game. It was a huge set back for Google, who had invested millions of dollars into the technology. Since then, DeepMind’s AI has come a long way in a short amount of time, and these new developments have huge implications.

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Deep Learning

NBA Using Artificial Intelligence to Create Highlights



NBA Using Artificial Intelligence to Create Highlights

The National Basketball Association (NBA) will be using artificial intelligence and machine learning to create highlights for their NBA All-Star weekend. 

The league has been testing this technology for many years now, starting in 2014. It comes from WSC Sports, an Isreali company, and it’s used to analyze key moments of each game in order to create highlights. One of the reasons behind this shift is that social media is becoming increasingly important as a way to reach fans, and customized highlights can reach more people. 

During the All-Star weekend, each individual player will have his own highlight reel created by the software. 

Bob Carney is the senior vice president of social and digital strategy for the NBA. 

“This is something we wouldn’t do before when we had to do it manually and push it out across 200 social and digital platforms across the US,” he said.

“We developed this technology that identifies each and every play of the game,” said Shake Arnon, general manager of WSC North America. 

Machine learning or AI is utilized by the software, and it identifies key moments in games through visual, audio and data cues. The software is then able to create highlights to be shared throughout social media and elsewhere. According to WSC Sports, they produced more than 13 million total clips and highlights in 2019. 

“We provide them the streams of our games and they are able to identify moments in the games, which allow us to automate the creation and distribution of highlight content,” Carney said.

According to Carney, who has worked for the NBA for almost 20 years, he wasn’t sure about the technology when he first met with WSC Sports. 

“We’ve heard the pitch about automated content many times…rarely can content providers do it,” he said. 

He eventually changed his mind after a pilot test with the NBA’s development league, which showcased the potential of the technology if used on a larger scale. Now, WSC technology is used on all of the NBA’s platforms, including the WNBA, G-League, and esports. 

The use of artificial intelligence has greatly reduced the time it takes to create highlights. 

“Previously, it could take an hour to cut a post-game highlights package,” Carney said. “Now it takes a few minutes to create over 1,000 highlight packages.” 

WSC’s long-term goal is personalized content, and they believe it is the future of sports highlights. They would like every individual fan to be able to receive personalized content delivered directly to them. 

“I want to be in control as a fan…We provide the tools to see what you want and when,” said Arnon.

The NBA says that the use of the new technology will not result in job loss, a problem often associated with the implementation of artificial intelligence and automation. 

“What it’s really done for us is allow us to take our best storytellers and let them focus on all the amazing stories…while the machines are focused on the automation,” he said. 

WSC, or World’s Scouting Center, is used by almost every single sports league, including the PGA Tour and NCAA. A total of 16 sports use the company. 

According to Arnon, “The NBA was always the holy grail. We are now in our sixth season and every year we’re doing more things to help the NBA lead the charge and get NBA content to more fans around the globe.” 

The company raised $23 million of Series C funding back in August, and their total capital is up to $39 million. Some of the investors include Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Wilf family, owners of the Minnesota Vikings. Previous NBA Commissioner David Stern is an advisor to the company. 

WSC has over 120 employees and buildings in Tel Aviv, New York and Sydney, Australia. They have plans to expand to Europe within the next two years.


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Researchers Create AI Tool That Can Make New Video Game Levels




Researchers Create AI Tool That Can Make New Video Game Levels

As machine learning and artificial intelligence became more sophisticated, video games proved to be a natural and useful proving ground for AI algorithms and models. Because video games have observable and quantifiable mechanics, objects, and metrics, they make convenient ways for AI developers to test the versatility and reliability of their models. While video games have helped AI engineers develop their models, AI can potentially help video game designers create their own games. Recently, a group of researchers at the University of Alberta designed a set of algorithms that could automate the creation of simple platforming video games.

Matthew Guzdial is an assistant professor and AI researcher at the University of Alberta, and according to Time magazine, Guzdial and his team have been working on an AI algorithm that can automatically create levels in side-scrolling platforming video games. This automated level design could save game designers time and energy, allowing them to focus on more demanding tasks.

Guzdial and his team trained an AI to generate platforming game levels by having the AI train on many hours of platforming game gameplay. Guzdial, including games like the original Super Mario Bros., Kirby’s Adventure, and Mega Man. After the initial training, the AI is tasked with rendering predictions about the rules/mechanics of the game, comparing its assumptions with test footage of the game. After the AI has managed to interpret the rules that a game operates on, the researchers then used a similar training method to construct entirely new levels that the model’s rules are tested in.

Guzdial and his team created a “game graph”, which is a merger of both the model’s beliefs regarding rules and its assumptions about how the levels that use this rules are designed. The game graph combined all the crucial features regarding a game into one representation, and this representation, therefore, it contained all the necessary information for the game to be reproduced from scratch. All of the information contained in the game graph was then used to engineer new levels and games. The contents of the model’s observations are combined in new, unique ways. For example, the AI combined aspects of both Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man to create a new level that drew on the platforming mechanics of both games. When this process is repeated over and over, the end result could be an entirely new game that feels very similar to classic platformers but is nonetheless unique.

According to Guzdial, as quoted by Time, the idea behind the project is to create a tool that game developers can use to start designing their own levels and games without needing to learn how to code. Guzdial pointed to the fact that Super Mario Maker is already taking this concept and running with it.

Guzdial and the other members of the research team are hoping to take the concept even further, potentially creating a tool that could like people to create new levels or games just by specifying a certain “feel” or “look” that they. Once the model receives these specifications it can then go about creating a new game with unique levels and rules. The model would apparently only need two frames of a game in order to do this, as it would extrapolate from the differences between the two frames. The user would be able to give the model feedback as it generated levels, and the model would create new levels based on the provided feedback.

“We’re putting some finishing touches on the interface and then we’re going to run a human subject study to find out if we’re on the right track,” Guzdial said to Time.

Although any consumer-ready version of that application is still a way in the future, Guzdial expressed concerns that the games industry might be slow to adopt the technology due to concerns that it might reduce the need for human game designers. Despite this, Guzdial did think that if anyone was likely to use the tool, the first people to do so would likely be independent game developers, who might use it to create interesting, experimental games.

“I can totally imagine that what we get are some passionate indie [developers] messing around with these technologies and making weird, cool, interesting little experiences,” said Guzdial. “But I don’t think they’re going to impact triple-A game development anytime soon.”

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Computer Algorithm Can Identify Unique Dancing Characteristics



Computer Algorithm Can Identify Unique Dancing Characteristics

Researchers at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Music Research at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland have been using motion capture technology to study people and dancing over the last few years. It is being used as a way to better understand the connection between music and individuals. They have been able to learn things through dance such as how extroverted or neurotic an individual is, their mood, and how much that individual empathizes with other people.

By continuing this work, they have run into a surprising new discovery. 

According to Dr. Emily Carlson, the first author of the study, “We actually weren’t looking for this result, as we set out to study something completely different.”

“Our original idea was to see if we could use machine learning to identify which genre of music our participants were dancing to, based on their movements.”

There were 73 participants in the study. As they danced to the eight different genres of Blues, Country, Dance/Electronica, Jazz, Metal, Pop, Reggae and Rap, they were motion captured. They were told to listen to the music and then move their bodies in any way that felt natural.

“We think it’s important to study phenomena as they occur in the real world, which is why we employ a naturalistic research paradigm,” according to Professor Petri Toivianinen, the senior author of the study. 

Participants’ movements were analyzed by the researchers using machine learning, which attempted to distinguish between the different musical genres. The process didn’t go as planned, and the computer algorithm was only able to identify the correct genre less than 30% of the time. 

Even though the process didn’t go as planned, the researchers did discover that the computer was able to correctly identify the individual from the group of 73, based on their movements. The accuracy rate was 94%, compared to the 2% accuracy rate if it was left to chance, or the computer guessed without any given information.

“It seems as though a person’s dance movements are a kind of fingerprint,” says Dr. Pasi Saari, co-author of the study and data analyst. “Each person has a unique movement signature that stays the same no matter what kind of music is playing.”

There was an increased effect on individual dance movements depending on the genre of music that was played. When individuals danced to Metal music, the computer was less accurate in identifying who it was.

“There is a strong cultural association between Metal and certain types of movement, like headbanging,” Emily Carlson says. “It’s probable that Metal caused more dancers to move in similar ways, making it harder to tell them apart.”

These new developments could lead to something such as dance-recognition software.

“We’re less interested in applications like surveillance than in what these results tell us about human musicality,” Carlson explains. “We have a lot of new questions to ask, like whether our movement signatures stay the same across our lifespan, whether we can detect differences between cultures based on these movement signatures, and how well humans are able to recognize individuals from their dance movements compared to computers. Most research raises more questions than answers and this study is no exception.”


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