Players of the science-fiction video game StarCraft II faced an unusual opponent this summer. An artificial intelligence (AI) known as AlphaStar -- which was built by Google's AI firm DeepMind -- achieved a grandmaster rating after it was unleashed on the game's European servers, placing within the top 0.15% of the region's 90,000 players. The result, published on 30 October in Nature1, shows that an AI can compete at the highest levels of StarCraft II, a massively popular online strategy game in which players compete in real time as one of three factions -- the human Terran forces or the aliens Protoss and Zerg -- battling against each other in a futuristic warzone. DeepMind, which previously built world-leading AIs that play chess and Go, targeted StarCraft II as its next benchmark in the quest for a general AI -- a machine capable of learning or understanding any task that humans can -- because of the game's strategic complexity and rapid pace. "I did not expect AI to essentially be superhuman in this domain so quickly, maybe not for another couple of years," says Jon Dodge, an AI researcher at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
DeepMind says this latest iteration of AlphaStar -- AlphaStar Final -- can play a full StarCraft 2 match under "professionally approved" conditions, importantly with limits on the frequency of its actions and by viewing the world through a game camera. It plays on the official StarCraft 2 Battle.net "StarCraft has been a grand challenge for AI researchers for over 15 years, so it's hugely exciting to see this work recognized in Nature," said DeepMind cofounder and CEO Demis Hassabis. "These impressive results mark an important step forward in our mission to create intelligent systems that will accelerate scientific discovery." DeepMind's forays into competitive StarCraft play can be traced back to 2017, when the company worked with Blizzard to release an open source tool set containing anonymized match replays.
DeepMind has ambitions to solve some of the world's most complex problems using artificial intelligence. But first, it needs to get really good at StarCraft. After months of training, the Alphabet-owned AI firm's AlphaStar program is now capable of playing a full game of StarCraft II against a professional human player – and winning. It might sound frivolous, but mastering a game as complex as StarCraft is a major technological leap for DeepMind's AI brains. The company showed off AlphaStar in a livestream where the five agents created by the program were initially pitted against professional player Dario "TLO" Wünsch in a pre-recorded five-game series.
DeepMind's AlphaStar AI bot has reached Grandmaster level at StarCraft II, a popular battle strategy computer game, after ranking within the top 0.15 per cent of players in an online league. StarCraft II is a complex game and has a massive following with its own annual professional tournament - StarCraft II World Championship Series - that involves the best international teams competing over a prize pot over $2m. AlphaStar, however, isn't quite good enough to compete in that competition. Instead it set its eyes on a much smaller contest on Battle.net, the game's official online league hosted by China-friendly gaming biz Blizzard Entertainment. Researchers at Google-stablemate DeepMind entered its bot AlphaStar into a series of blind games, where its opponents had no idea it was playing against a computer.
Studies show that lots of Americans are worried that AI is coming for their jobs -- Uber and Lyft drivers, couriers, receptionists, even software engineers. A remarkable exhibition match today suggested that another group that should be worried is ... pro video gamers? In a stunning demonstration of how far AI capabilities have come, AlphaStar -- a new AI system from Google's DeepMind -- competed with pro players in a series of competitive StarCraft games. StarCraft is a complicated strategy game that requires players to consider hundreds of options at any given moment, to make strategic choices with payoffs a long way down the road, and to operate in a fast-changing environment with imperfect information. More than 200,000 games are played every day.