In the Quest for General Intelligence, AIs Are Chasing Chickens in Minecraft

Microsoft’s challenge requires AI agents to cooperate in a virtual universe

3 min read
Image: Microsoft
Playtime: Microsoft researchers hope that after collaborating with other AIs in a virtual game, it will be easier for AIs to learn to work with humans in the real world.
Image: Microsoft

If artificial intelligence (AI) agents are to become real players in society, using their machine abilities to complement our human strengths, they must first become players in the video game ofMinecraft. And to prove themselves in Minecraft, they must work together to capture animals in a maze, build towers of blocks, and hunt for treasure while fighting off skeletons.

That, anyway, is the premise of a competition organized by Microsoft, Queen Mary University of London, and crowdAI (a platform for data-science challenges). Next month, the organizers will announce the winner—the team that created an AI that could best observe its Minecraft environment, determine which of three missions it had to accomplish, and then collaborate with another AI agent to carry out that mission.

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Will AI Steal Submarines’ Stealth?

Better detection will make the oceans transparent—and perhaps doom mutually assured destruction

11 min read
A photo of a submarine in the water under a partly cloudy sky.

The Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Virginia cruises through the Mediterranean in 2010. Back then, it could effectively disappear just by diving.

U.S. Navy

Submarines are valued primarily for their ability to hide. The assurance that submarines would likely survive the first missile strike in a nuclear war and thus be able to respond by launching missiles in a second strike is key to the strategy of deterrence known as mutually assured destruction. Any new technology that might render the oceans effectively transparent, making it trivial to spot lurking submarines, could thus undermine the peace of the world. For nearly a century, naval engineers have striven to develop ever-faster, ever-quieter submarines. But they have worked just as hard at advancing a wide array of radar, sonar, and other technologies designed to detect, target, and eliminate enemy submarines.

The balance seemed to turn with the emergence of nuclear-powered submarines in the early 1960s. In a 2015 study for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, Bryan Clark, a naval specialist now at the Hudson Institute, noted that the ability of these boats to remain submerged for long periods of time made them “nearly impossible to find with radar and active sonar.” But even these stealthy submarines produce subtle, very-low-frequency noises that can be picked up from far away by networks of acoustic hydrophone arrays mounted to the seafloor.

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