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.”
NBA Using Artificial Intelligence to Create Highlights
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.
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.”
AI Struggles To Master Minecraft Through Imitation Learning
Over the past few months, Microsoft and other companies researching machine learning challenged teams of AI developers to create an AI system that could play Minecraft and find a diamond within the game. As reported by the BBC, while AI platforms have managed to dominate chess and go, but it has struggled to master a task in Minecraft.
Microsoft’s Minecraft-based AI challenge was called MineRL, and the competition results were formally announced at the recent NeurIPS conference. The competition’s intention was to train an AI through an “imitation learning” approach. Imitation learning is a method where an AI is trained through the use of observation. Imitation learning intends to let AI systems learn actions by watching humans carries out those actions, learning through the act of observation. Imitation learning, in comparison to reinforcement learning, is a much less computationally expensive and substantially more efficient way of training an AI.
Reinforcement learning often requires many powerful computers networked together and hundreds or thousands of hours of training to become effective at a task. In contrast, an AI trained with an imitation learning method can be trained much quicker, as the AI already has a baseline of knowledge to work with courtesy of the human operators who have proceeded it.
Imitation learning has practical applications in training an AI where the AI cannot safely explore until it figures out the correct actions. Such scenarios would include the training of an autonomous vehicle as the car couldn’t be allowed to just roam around a street until it has learned desired behaviors. Using a human demonstrator’s data to train the vehicle could potentially make the process faster and safer.
The act of finding a diamond in Minecraft requires carrying out many steps in sequence, such as cutting down trees to make tools, exploring the caves that contain the diamonds, and actually finding a diamond within the cave. Despite the complexity of the task, a human player familiar with the game should be able to get a diamond in around 20 minutes.
Over 660 different AI agents were submitted to the competition, but not a single one of the AIs was able to find a diamond. The data provided to train the AI was a dataset containing over 60 million frames of gameplay collected from many human players. The locations of diamonds are randomized when an instance of the game is started, so this means that the AIs cannot simply look where the human players found the diamonds. In other words, the AIs need to form an understanding of how concepts, like making tools, using tools, exploring, and finding resources, are linked together.
Despite the fact that none of the AI agents were able to successfully find a diamond, the organization team was still pleased by the results of the competition, and that much was still learned from the experiment. The research that the AI teams conducted can help advance the AI field, finding alternatives to reinforcement learning strategies.
Reinforcement learning often gives superior performance over imitation learning, with one notable success of reinforcement learning being DeepMind’s AlphaGo. However, as previously noted, reinforcement learning requires massive computing resources, limiting its use by organizations that cannot afford computer processers at large scale.
William Guss, PhD Student at Carnegie Mellon University and head organizer of the competition, explained to the BBC that the MineRL competition was intended to investigate alternatives to computationally heaving AI. Said Guss:
“…Throwing massive compute at problems isn’t necessarily the right way for us to push the state of the art as a field… It works directly against democratising access to these reinforcement learning systems, and leaves the ability to train agents in complex environments to corporations with swathes of compute.”