Over a year ago, OpenAI, the San Francisco–based for-profit AI research lab, announced that it had trained a robotic hand to manipulate a cube with remarkable dexterity. That might not sound earth-shattering. But in the AI world, it was impressive for two reasons. First, the hand had taught itself how to fidget with the cube using a reinforcement-learning algorithm, a technique modeled on the way animals learn. Second, all the training had been done in simulation, but it managed to successfully translate to the real world.
"This is an interesting and positive step forward, but it is really important not to exaggerate it," said Ken Goldberg, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who explores similar techniques. A robot that can solve a Rubik's Cube is not new. Researchers previously designed machines specifically for the task -- devices that look nothing like a hand -- and they can solve the puzzle in less than a second. But building devices that work like a human hand is a painstaking process in which engineers spend months laying down rules that define each tiny movement. The OpenAI project was an achievement of sorts because its researchers did not program each movement into their robotic hand.
Last week, on the third floor of a small building in San Francisco's Mission District, a woman scrambled the tiles of a Rubik's Cube and placed it in the palm of a robotic hand. The hand began to move, gingerly spinning the tiles with its thumb and four long fingers. Each movement was small, slow and unsteady. But soon, the colors started to align. Four minutes later, with one more twist, it unscrambled the last few tiles, and a cheer went up from a long line of researchers watching nearby.
Robots with truly humanlike dexterity are far from becoming reality, but progress accelerated by AI has brought us closer to achieving this vision than ever before. In a research paper published in September, a team of scientists at Google detailed their tests with a robotic hand that enabled it to rotate Baoding balls with minimal training data. And at a computer vision conference in June, MIT researchers presented their work on an AI model capable of predicting the tactility of physical things from snippets of visual data alone. Now, OpenAI -- the San Francisco-based AI research firm cofounded by Elon Musk and others, with backing from luminaries like LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman and former Y Combinator president Sam Altman -- says it's on the cusp of solving something of a grand challenge in robotics and AI systems: solving a Rubik's cube. Unlike breakthroughs achieved by teams at the University of California, Irvine and elsewhere, which leveraged machines tailor-built to manipulate Rubik's cubes with speed, the approach devised by OpenAI researchers uses a five-fingered humanoid hand guided by an AI model with 13,000 years of cumulative experience -- on the same order of magnitude as the 40,000 years used by OpenAI's Dota-playing bot.
Few things reveal the limits of someone's problem-solving skills faster than a Rubik's Cube, the multicolored, three-dimensional puzzle that has befuddled so many since the 1970s. Though the cube has furrowed countless human brows over the years, it's not much of a challenge for an emerging group of hyper-intelligent machines, as it turns out. This week, the University of California at Irvine announced that an artificial intelligence system solved the puzzle in just over a second, besting the current human world record by more than two seconds. The system, known as DeepCubeA -- a reinforcement-learning algorithm programmed by UCI computer scientists and mathematicians -- solved the puzzle without prior knowledge of the game or coaching from its human handlers, according to the university. The feat is even more impressive considering that there are billions of potential moves available to a Rubik's Cube player, with the puzzle's six sides and nine sections, but only one goal: each of the cube's six sides displaying a solid color.
The human record for solving a Rubik's Cube has been smashed by an artificial intelligence. The bot, called DeepCubeA, completed the popular puzzle in a fraction of a second - much faster than the quickest humans. While algorithms have previously been developed specifically to solve the Rubik's Cube, this is the first time it has done without any specific domain knowledge or in-game coaching from humans. It brings researchers a step closer to creating an advanced AI system that can think like a human. "The solution to the Rubik's Cube involves more symbolic, mathematical and abstract thinking," said senior author Professor Pierre Baldi, a computer scientist at the University of California, Irvine.
Researchers have developed an AI algorithm which can solve a Rubik's cube in a fraction of a second, according to a study published in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence. The system, known as DeepCubeA, uses a form of machine learning which teaches itself how to play in order to crack the puzzle without being specifically coached by humans. "Artificial intelligence can defeat the world's best human chess and Go players, but some of the more difficult puzzles, such as the Rubik's Cube, had not been solved by computers, so we thought they were open for AI approaches," Pierre Baldi, one of the developers of the algorithm and computer scientist from the University of California, Irvine, said in a statement. According to Baldi, the latest development could herald a new generation of artificial intelligence (AI) deep-learning systems which are more advanced than those used in commercially available applications such as Siri and Alexa. "These systems are not really intelligent; they're brittle, and you can easily break or fool them," Baldi said.
An artificial intelligence system created by researchers at the University of California has solved the Rubik's Cube in just over a second. DeepCubeA, as the algorithm was called, completed the 3D logic puzzle which has been taxing humans since it was invented in 1974. "It learned on its own," said report author Prof Pierre Baldi. The researchers noted that its strategy was very different from the way humans tackle the puzzle. "My best guess is that the AI's form of reasoning is completely different from a human's," said Prof Baldi, who is professor of computer science at University of California, Irvine.