Artificial intelligence and video games
3/16/15

The article you are reading has not been written by a robot - or not yet at any rate. But it is only a matter of time before this becomes a reality. Certain press releases are already being written by robots (these involve company accounts, sporting events or earthquake notifications, for example), translators take part in your conferences by Skype and the Google pilotless car has already travelled more than a million kilometers without a single hitch which is a better record in terms of safety than that of a conventional driver. Behind these major developments are: the fabulous progress that has been made by artificial intelligence systems in recent times. Some of these developments are due to the creation and perfection of video games. According to research results that have just been published (1), a team from the University of Liège is revisiting the design of artificial intelligence systems used in video games by defining a middleware, a kind of software intermediary between what is common to the artificial intelligence of all these games and their specific instantiations.

IA Jeux videosDamien Ernst, who is a professor in the department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Liège, is without doubt better known for his work on electrical networks and his studies of  blackouts (see electric energy: what does the future hold? and his blog) than for his skills in artificial intelligence (AI). However, some of his work (see Electrical networks in the connections between neurons) has led to the idea that AI is the central preoccupation of the research carried out by this group. “We have a long tradition of using AI techniques for decision-making purposes in electrical networks”, explains Damien Ernst. “Electric networks are certainly very complex; humans need to be assisted by AI tools in order to make good decisions”.  Damien Ernst’s team has not, however, contented itself with the use of  AI techniques  and has succeeded in making seminal  contributions in the area because the real problems associated with electrical networks that needed to be solved have been a source of ideas and a formidable area of experimentation in terms of the development of new AI systems. Some algorithms and AI modules developed by the researchers from Liège have thereby become international standards.

Algorithms

“We have an algorithmic vision of AI”, explains Damien Ernst; “these are algorithms and software programs that process information in order to extract intelligent decisions from this information. AI is more and more present in commercial products: the Google search engine and tools for the automatic translation of texts can be seen as artificial intelligence systems. The ultimate objective of research in this area is to create true intelligent and autonomous entities that greatly exceed all the cognitive faculties of human beings”. The scene has been set…but we are a long way from video games.

The intrusion of video games into the research carried out by the team from Liège is perhaps first and foremost the result of a passion, that of Firas Safadi, a young doctoral student and accomplished gamer in the research laboratory! But it is also undoubtedly a question of culture and potential industrial development (the money generated by the world market was around 70 billion euros last year, the biggest entertainment  industry in the world ahead of even music and film industries). Above all else, however, the reason for the intrusion of video games into this research is technological: “there is a problem that is plain for everyone to see”, explains Firas Safadi: “the quality of AI in video games is not sufficient. AI is, for example, the opponent we play against. But there are also simpler applications the aim of which is to animate entities in the games: for example, a dog that we interact with. This interaction must at least give the player the impression that this entity is intelligent without it having to actually be intelligent”.

(1) Artificial Intellignce in Video Games : Towards a Unified Framework ; Firas Safadi, Raphael Fonteneau , Damien Ernst ; International Journal of Computer Games Technology, 2015.

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