They say gaming is good for you, and in some cases it may well be. But it's highly unlikely that the developers at Blizzard ever thought that the StarCraft II videogame would one day be used by one of the world's foremost Artificial Intelligence companies to help them with their R&D.
Google's DeepMind has announced that it will be making use of game development studio Blizzard's StarCraft II game as a testing platform for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning research, opening the environment worldwide.
The announcement, made during Blizzard's BlizzCon conference at Anahaim on Sunday, has seen both companies build an open research environment to be used by anyone across the globe as of 2017, as well as by DeepMind itself.
"We've worked closely with the StarCraft II team to develop an API that supports something similar to previous bots written with a 'scripted' interface, allowing programmatic control of individual units and access to the full game state [with some new options as well]," DeepMind said.
"Ultimately, agents will play directly from pixels, so to get us there, we've developed a new image-based interface that outputs a simplified low-resolution RGB image data for map and minimap, and the option to break out features into separate 'layers', like terrain heightfield, unit type, unit health, etc."
In a blog post about the new collaboration with Blizzard Entertainment, Oriol Vinyals, research scientist at DeepMind, on the AI division's website, wrote: "Over the past five years we've helped to pioneer the use of games as AI research environments to drive our machine learning and reinforcement learning research forwards, from 2D games in Atari, to full 3D environments such as Torcs, mastering the game of Go, or our forthcoming DeepMind Labyrinth."
StarCraft will be a new testing environment for Google's AI, and DeepMind sees it as an even better opportunity to try algorithms that could later be applied in real-world scenarios.
According to DeepMind, some of the skills that the machine would have to develop in order to master the game include memory, planning over a long time, and adapting its plans according to new information.
Vinyals, writes: "We're really excited to see where our collaboration with Blizzard will take us. While we're still a long way from being able to challenge a professional human player at the game of StarCraft II, we hope that the work we have done with Blizzard will serve as a useful testing platform for the wider AI research community."