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Technology & Innovation

A.I. can now beat humans at their favorite video game

Machine learning has developed awareness of consequences for its actions. Oh, boy.
Dota 2.

Gary Numan once asked: are friends electric? Well, if you’re a robot — the answer is a resounding “affirmative“. In a landmark event, AI has beaten humans in a teamwork related video game called Dota 2. Bill Gates calls the event “a big deal, because their victory required teamwork and collaboration – a huge milestone in advancing artificial intelligence.” The AI team, comprised of five neural networks and collectively called OpenAI Five (itself part of the larger OpenAI) is funded by Elon Musk. 

These five separate neural networks played 180 years worth of Dota 2 against itself every day for about two months. It was able to learn strategy through reinforcement learning, which is essentially the AI experimenting within the game, i.e. what it can do and what it can’t do. Musk is apparently setting up a Dota 2 tourney featuring humans champions vs his AI squad for the end of July. 

For the uninitiated, Dota 2 is a little like World of Warcraft (strategy and role-playing) and Starcraft (battle arena) combined. It’s massively popular, with between 500,000 and a million people playing at any given moment. It’s also more strategy based than a bystander might realize. In the 5 vs 5 tournaments, players are required to work as a team. One video game expert—who asked to remain nameless as he works for a competing game—said that “Dota is a little like basketball. There is absolutely a need for a cohesive team effort and strategic movements, you can’t just run and gun and hope for the best.” 

One of the biggest achievements by the AI is perhaps the most overlooked by the (all too human) headline writers of this world: it takes the AI about 20,000 moves to win a game of Dota 2. That’s a gargantuan leap from the 40 moves it takes to win a game of Chess or the 150 it takes to win at Go, two games that AI has previously mastered. Some of the Dota 2 moves might be minor, while others — like the ‘town portal’ move (don’t ask me to explain it, I’m barely able to scramble an egg let alone describe a complex five-character teleportation) — can affect the entire playing field and the entire strategy in one move. The fact that AI can execute these moves correctly and have awareness of consequences of its actions is arguably the crux of the story. 


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