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Microsoft urges PhD-grade devs to play Minecraft for money

Cunning plan: get AIs co-operating in bricked VR, hand prizes to winners

Microsoft's Minecraft Malmo

Microsoft wants PhD researchers to pitch their bots into a Minecraft landscape, but it's not some simple “robot wars” remake: to win, your AI will have to learn to co-operate with humans.

And you don't get to choose who you co-operate with: in Project Malmo, the other players your code works with will be randomly assigned.

There are three maximum US$20k prizes at stake in the competition, which will happen inside a virtual Minecraft world.

Microsoft says projects will get assessed for originality, performance, code quality, and popularity (as measured in GitHub stars, since that's where competitors will host their entries to the competition).

Below: Microsoft's Katja Hofmann discusses Project Malmo

Youtube Video

It's open to teams of as many as three members worldwide.

Teams will be given a task to solve one or more mini-games, with the aim of developing a solution that works with other players to hit the high score.

The kinds of challenges the project has in mind include how the AI agent can recognise a player's intent; how it can learn whether its behaviour is helping reach the goal; and how agents can communicate with other agents to share strategy and solve problems.

It's time for some … no, we won't say it. The game uses a “Stag hunt” to model the co-operate/go-solo tradeoffs, and in Project Malmo it's implemented as a pig chase, published at GitHub.

As well as the Azure research grants, winners from Europe and Switzerland will get an invited to the Microsoft Research AI Summer School in Cambridge.

Project Malmo was first launched in July 2016 as a Minecraft-based AI development environment. ®

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