MIT plants Terminator seeds with Civilization II despot computer

Researchers over at MIT have decided to teach computers a task many of us refuse to learn – how to read a manual and put that knowledge into effect.

The scientists say computers are “great at treating words as data”. So they put the manual to Civilization II in front of a machine and let it loose.

Beginning with hardly any data or know-how, one computer was able to infer the meanings of words merely by reading instructions on how to install software, which were posted on Microsoft’s website.

Another was able to install and play the empire-building crack-like Civilization II by reading the gameplay manual. In fact, after reading the manual, the PC’s winning rate jumped from 46 percent to 79 percent.

The brainchild behind the experiment – Regina Barzilay, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering, said that games were used as a test bed for artificial-intelligence techniques simply because of their complexity.

She pointed out that every action that is taken in a game doesn’t have a pre-determined outcome, because the game or the opponent can randomly react to what their competitors do.

The manuals were perfect for the computers as they had very open text and didn’t tell a person how to win, meaning that the machine had to “think” for itself.

Apparently, the instructions of the game presents the computer with a list of actions it can take. This includes right-clicks or left-clicks, or moving the cursor. Although it can see these instructions there is nothing telling the computer which actions will make it successful.

It begins with random actions, which in the case of Civilization II, bring up different words on the screen.

By comparing these words to instructions in the manual it’s able to get a picture of what it’s doing and whether these actions work.

When it came to the software manual, the system was able to reproduce 80 percent of the steps that a human reading the same instructions would execute.

The researchers intend to carry on working on this theory and in time apply it to robots, meaning we could eventually be playing against these. Or more realistically, they haven’t seen the Terminator franchise and, in the end, Civ is going to destroy us the same way it destroyed our sleep cycles.