Training an AI

Source: Singularity Hub, Dec 2016

the non-profit institute OpenAI unveiled a virtual world for AI to explore and play in. Dubbed Universe, the goals of the project are as vast as its name: to train a single AI to be proficient at any task a human can do with a computer.

By teaching individual AI “agents” to excel at a variety of real-world tasks, OpenAI hopes to lead us one step closer to truly intelligent bots — those equipped with the flexible reasoning skills we humans possess.

AIs are still only good at what they’re trained to do. Ask AlphaGo to play chess, and the program likely returns the machine equivalent of utter bewilderment, even after you explain the rules in great detail.

As of now, our AI systems are ultra-efficient one-trick ponies. The way they’re trained is partly at fault: researchers generally initialize a blank slate AI, put it through millions of trials until it masters one task and call it quits. The AI never experiences anything else, so how would it know how to solve any other problem?

To get to general intelligence — a human-like ability to use previous experiences to tackle new problems — AIs need to carry their experiences into a variety of new tasks. This is where Universe comes in. By experiencing a world full of different scenarios, OpenAI researchers reason, AIs may finally be able to develop world knowledge and flexible problem solving skills that allow them to “think,” rather than forever getting stuck in a singular loop.

A whole new world

In a nutshell, Universe is a powerful platform encompassing thousands of environments that provides a common way for researchers to train their AI agent.

As a software platform Universe provides a stage to run other software, and each of these programs contributes a different environment — Atari and flash games, apps and websites, for example, are already applicable.

games only form a sliver of our interactions with the digital world, and Universe is already expanding beyond their limitations with a project dubbed the Mini World of Bits. Bits is a collection of different web browser interactions we encounter while browsing the Internet: typing things into text boxes or selecting an option from a dropdown menu and clicking “submit.”

These tasks, although simple, form the foundation of how we tap into the treasure trove that is the web. Ultimately OpenAI envisions AIs that can fluidly navigate the web towards a goal — for example, booking a flight. In one of Universe’s environments, researchers can already give an AI a desired booking schedule and train it to browse for the flight on multiple airlines.

Universe is only set to grow larger. Microsoft’s Malmo, an AI platform that uses Minecraft as its testing ground, is just about to integrate into Universe, as are the popular protein folding game fold.it, Android apps, HTML5 games and “really anything else people think of.”

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