Technology

AI mario, artificial intelligence play computer game
Robin Baumgarten
A screenshot of Robin Baumgarten's AI
program playing Infinite Mario Bros.

Computer Programs Take Over Controls for Video Gamers

September 01, 2009 08:00 AM
by Haley A. Lovett
Wii is gearing up to introduce self-playing computer games and developers are creating AI to play the game “Infinite Mario Bros.,” illustrating how computers may replace a variety of human activities.

Artificial Intelligence at the Joystick

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A YouTube video of a computer program playing Infinite Mario Bros. is sweeping the Internet world, signaling the start of a new era of computers playing video games instead of humans.

The video is part of a submission to the Mario AI Competition 2009. The competition asks developers to create a program that can win as many never-before-seen levels of “Infinite Mario Bros.” (an open source game based on the classic Super Mario Bros.) as possible, using Artificial Intelligence developing techniques. The programs must be able to analyze Mario’s position every second—including all surrounding obstacles—and decide which route will get the game’s hero to safety. The ultimate goal is to see which AI learning algorithms work best in a gaming situation.

The YouTube video, submitted by Robin Baumgarten, shows Mario zipping through one sample level of the game, and allows you to see the computer program checking all possible paths (using a red line to indicate potential moves) before moving Mario safely along. The submission won the first round of the competition. Baumgarten, a PhD student at Imperial College, London, notes on his Web site that his favorite response to the program so far was a comment left on YouTube: “da computer will play video games for us, so we have more free time? Way cool.”

Gamers not familiar with AI programming might not have to wait very long before their own computer games can play without them. The “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” game, due to arrive this winter, has been confirmed to include a “help” feature in which a user can have the game take over and beat a difficult level or situation for them. Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto told USA Today that the Nintendo company may offer this help feature in more games in the future.

Background: Robots can do nearly everything humans can

The U.S. Air Force recently released a report estimating that within the next 40 years, the U.S. will have the technology to send unmanned aircraft into battle, and that the technology would include the ability for the aircraft to decide whether to strike a target without human help.

In February, Duke University researchers announced that a robot successfully performed a simulated biopsy. The machine was able to see and evaluate a lesion in a simulated breast, and take a biopsy of the lesion. Researchers hope that this robot and others like it could help save patients money in the future; however, they don’t see robots taking over the medical profession entirely.

A recent study found that robots with the ability to deceive one another about the location of “food” were more likely to survive simulated and real situations, which may explain how traits such as deception have evolved in the animal and human world. The expression of other traits and emotions, such as anger, have long divided the human and robot worlds. Some researchers wonder if robots will one day need to express human emotions in order to be accepted by humans.

Related Topic: Humans living in virtual worlds

Not only have computer programs been developed to perform various tasks to make life easier for humans, some video games are replacing everyday experiences that would normally involve human interaction. Games that emulated real life were once distinctly separate from a player’s actual real-world existence, but the two worlds have now merged and experiences such as job training programs, employee hiring processes and even the exchange of actual money for virtual services are now taking place in virtual “worlds” such as the game Second Life.
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