Researchers at MIT studying artificial intelligence did something unimaginable. They taught their supercomputer how to play a computer game, but it’s how they did it that makes this interesting. Instead of programming the logic for the game into a series of IF-THEN conditional structures, the researchers only taught the supercomputer how to read the game’s instruction manual, something most human players are usually incapable of.

The game in question is Sid Meier’s Civilization II. It is a strategy game where you nurture and guide a civilization each with their own unique tech trees and wonders (power ups) from the stone age to the space age. Along the way you bump into other computer controlled civilizations as you expand your territory on the world map. You can use trade, forge alliances or go to war with the various civilizations as a means to achieving world domination.

Researchers were interested in how closely the supercomputer could mimic human learning. The AI was provided with a manual that it could reference and compare to what was happening during the game. After some trial and error, the computer started to learn and develop its own strategies, eventually racking up an impressive 79% win rate against the Civ II game AI. Essentially, the supercomputer AI taught itself to play through deciphering and comprehending human language as its only source of information on how to play. Take that, IBM Watson.

Now if they can just teach it to grab some beer and order up a pizza before a co-op multiplayer session, I’d be in gaming heaven.


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