Image by Mike Prosser

Microsoft has announced that it’s starting to use Minecraft as a space in which to build, test and develop new artificial intelligence systems. The new platform, developed by academics, will be made available to everyone over the summer.


A team from Microsoft’s UK research lab in Cambridge has developed the new system, which is called AIX. The team claims that the endless possibility of Minecraft makes it an ideal “digital playpen” for AI systems.

For instance, the researchers have been trying to create an AI that can learn to navigate the virtual world and climb to the highest point using the same reasoning that a human might. The vastness makes that a more interesting challenge than carrying out the same experiment in a lab, as the team explains:


[T]he agent starts out knowing nothing at all about its environment or even what it is supposed to accomplish. It needs to understand its surroundings and figure out what’s important – going uphill – and what isn’t, such as whether it’s light or dark. It needs to endure a lot of trial and error, including regularly falling into rivers and lava pits. And it needs to understand – via incremental rewards – when it has achieved all or part of its goal.

But that’s just one example. The hope is that researchers will be able to combine existing AI techniques to create more complex systems, then test them in a rich virtual world.

The AIX system is already being offered up to academics around the world to work with and the team is planning to make it available under an open-source license in the summer. The software will be available for Windows, Linux or OS X.


[Microsoft via BBC]