Here's Why Facebook Is Using Minecraft To Train Its AI Assistant

When we think of Minecraft, we think of an addictive game that allows us to escape the rigors of everyday life to embark in a simplistic, virtualized world that is both fun and engaging. However, Facebook sees Minecraft as more than just mere child's play -- in fact, it's using the game as a training ground of sorts for its AI assistant.

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Team members from Facebook Research are using the 3D sandbox game because of its near limitless ability to create and rules that are "simple and predictable within certain limits" according to MIT Technology Review. This simplicity makes Minecraft a perfect fit for a generalist AI assistant. Facebook researcher Arthur Szlam and his team have crafted an AI assistant that's resides within Minecraft and can respond to user commands using the built-in chat mechanism. 

The AI assistant is able to receive commands from a human and interpret what is being asked. Not only can the AI respond in text format within the chat system, but it can also perform tasks commanded of it within the game world. In the example below, the AI is asked to build a circle in a location that the human players requests. On cue, it performs the task, and even responds when complimented on the end results.

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Creating a circle is a relatively simple task, especially given the constraints placed on building within the Minecraft world due to the "building blocks" that underpin the world. But Facebook is working to allow the AI to evolve to complete more complex tasks. The example was given to "build a tower 15 blocks tall and then put a giant smiley on top", which might seem quite simple to a human operator. However, the AI must interpret the what a tower is, what 15 blocks high mean, and successfully create a smiley face.

“Since we work in a game environment, players may enjoy interacting with the assistants as they are developed, yielding a rich resource for human-in-the-loop research,” said the research team. “The set of things a player could possibly do in the game is enormous; in the most naive sense, it is all possible ways of placing all the possible blocks into as big a world as fits in RAM."

For those that would like to try out the new AI assistant, you can access an early test build which you can download here

Minecraft is a widely popular game that is available on just about every modern gaming platform. The game recently celebrated its 10thanniversary and boasts more than 90 million monthly active players. The Minecraft family will soon expand with the addition of Minecraft Earth, which looks to build on the Pokemon Go augmented reality craze that swept over the globe a few year ago. NVIDIA also recently gave the game a gorgeous GeForce RTX ray tracing makeover, which you can read about in more detail here.