Scientists' AI defeats human expert

Berkley boffins have created an artificial intelligence program which can defeat a human Starcraft champion.

Dubbed Overmind, the software knocked the socks off Oriol Vinyals, who is a one-time World Cyber Games competitor. He managed to get to number 1 in Spain and was ranked in the top 16 players in Europe.

Overmind is Berkley’s entry into the 2010 StarCraft AI Competition.

StarCraft is one of the most popular games ever and professional StarCraft players are celebrities with six-figure contracts and their games broadcast live on national TV.

It is also a challenge for artificial intelligence because a successful StarCraft AI agent must attempt to solve a number of problems.

Writing in Ars Technica one of the boffins Haomiao Huang said that the complexity makes StarCraft an ideal environment for conducting AI research.

Events unfold in real-time and players’ orders are carried out immediately. Resources have to be gathered so fighting units can be produced and commanded into battle. The map is shrouded in fog-of-war, so enemy units and buildings are only visible when they’re near friendly buildings or units. In the past AI writers have looked at chess as a good way to test their skills because you have to look far into the future, go is worse because there are lots of pieces. With poker there’s uncertainty. However in StarCraft, you have all of these things going on simultaneously, and you have very little time to compute a solution.”

Humans get around the problem by practice and training, building up an extensive store of skills and expert knowledge. Getting this into an AI agent is nearly impossible.

Early attempts to beat humans proved to be a disaster. Humans were just too sneaky. Tactics meant little when a human would use cunning untought of techniques.

However now it seems that the Berkley team have mastered. Today Starcraft, tomorrow Starnet will will be controlling the universe. Watch it Sarah Conner.