Prayer for the Solstice

In the summer of 2005 a herd of twenty-three driverless cars barrelled across the Nevada desert, watched by scientists, engineers and nervous representatives of military funding agencies. Several hours later the first car crossed the finish line claiming a $2 million prize for the DARPA Grand Challenge and, naturally, the keen attention of DARPA itself. But it wasn’t just their interest that was piqued – journalists were also waiting to see if the whole field of artificial intelligence might emerge from the wilderness along with the beaten-up cars. John Markoff, writing for the New York Yimes, began his coverage of the event by describing AI as:

“…a technology field that for decades has overpromised and underdelivered… At its low point some computer scientists and software engineers avoided the term artificial intelligence for fear of being viewed as wild-eyed dreamers.” 

It’s safe to say that artificial intelligence as a field has largely beaten off that image today, and is currently enjoying a golden age of investment, growth and discovery. In 2006 Ray Kurzweil wrote in his book ‘The Singularity’ that “the AI winter is long since over” – ‘AI winter’ being a term people use to describe catastrophic slumps that the field experiences following a period of prosperity. New techniques emerge that seem to solve problems better than ever before, forecasts and predictions are made about the future, hopes are raised, and then eventually the bubble of excitement bursts under the weight of its own expectations. The winter that follows is long – research funding is cut, tech startups shutter, businesses and governments withdraw interest, and the public loses their faith in the field. When Kurzweil wrote that the winter was over in 2006 he may have been talking specifically about the winter that took place in the 1990s, but it’s possible he was also talking more generally – many AI researchers I’ve spoken to believe this is it, that there will be no more winters. In 2012 Demis Hassabis, then the founder of a little-known company called DeepMind Technologies, declared that ‘the time is right for a push towards general AI’.

2017 is the summer solstice for artificial intelligence, the warmest and longest day, the kind of day that makes it feel like summer might last forever. But nothing lasts forever, and this season will pass like all the others have before it. The only thing that we can affect is how bitter and harsh the coming winter will be, and that is largely dictated by how badly let down people feel when the bubble finally bursts. What dream did we sell them, what did we let them believe, how did we advise them to act and spend their money? We need to start thinking about the image of artificial intelligence this year, and change it for the better.

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The First Draft – DOTA 2 & EXAG

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This week is AIIDE, a big academic conference all about AI and games. For the last few years I’ve co-organised a workshop called EXAG along with Alex Zook and Antonios Liapis, and this weekend it’ll be happening again. EXAG is always a very special time of year for me, and the papers I put into EXAG are normally my most favourite out of the whole year, because they can be about all kinds of new and unusual things. This year I wrote one with Adam Summerville about DOTA 2, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about the paper and the game.

Click Here To Read The Paper!

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Some Talks, Some Generators

Thanks to Jupiter Hadley for the pic!

We are slap-bang in the middle of my busiest time of year right now, with PROCJAM coming up in the next month, conferences happening, grant deadlines, book deadlines, and lots more. I wanted to slip in with a quick post here about some things that have been going on recently, and to mention a project I put up on GitHub today that you might be interested in!

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Alien Languages: How We Talk About Procedural Generation

This is the first in a short series of posts about No Man’s Sky and the future of procedural generation.

Procedural generation has been around for a long, long time now. We are approaching the 40th anniversary of Rogue, Elite has already had its 30th birthday, and even sprightly young Spelunky is coming up to double digits. We’ve seen old ideas refined and polished over those decades, and new ideas experimented with and tested out. But throughout this evolution and growth one area has remained largely the same, swept under the rug every time it caused problems, hoping that we could forget about it for a little longer. With the release of No Man’s Sky this month, I feel like it simply can’t be ignored any longer. We need to talk about how we talk about procedural generation.

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Welcome To EXAG 2016

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I like it when great games research (and researchers) get seen by more people, and one of my favourite groups to show this stuff to are indie developers. I’ve poked and prodded at a variety of ways of doing this over the years, but one thing remains hard to organise: getting indie developers involved and recognised at academic events. It’s hard to explain to indies why they’d want to submit anything, and hard to get work potentially seen as ‘not academic’ accepted and taken seriously at some events. But I think it’s worth pushing for more, and I thought it was time to put into words why I think this is. So this is a short post about why you might like to submit something to EXAG 2016 as an indie, and why academic events should do their best to accept it.

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@botsburgers – How It Works

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Last weekend I attended Bot Summit where I saw an incredible array of talks (watch them all here!) Every talk is affecting in its own way, but today I want to mention Martin O’Leary‘s talk which called for Epic Botmaking. Martin talked about theatre, and Brecht, and lots of things I’d never learned about before. One of his suggestions was that bots lay out their entire process sometimes, so that there’s no mystery or wondering. While I wouldn’t recommend it for every bot or botmaker, I also thought it sounded like a neat opportunity for tech communication. So here’s how my latest bot, @botsburgers, works. Oh, and the source is online here!

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The Saturday Papers – The Next Top Model

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As game developers, we’re tempted (if not outright encouraged) to code first and think later. There’s lots of good reasons for this – games are big projects, and feeling out a game’s mechanics through play is much easier than imagining them. What can we gain from planning, modelling and thinking out systems ahead of time, though? Maybe there are different ways of thinking about games that have their own power and usefulness. This week on The Saturday Paper we look at a language for modelling systems in games, and think about why it might come in handy.

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The Saturday Papers – Express Yourself

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Procedural generation is getting broader and deeper in games every passing month. While more and more genres are finding ways to generate parts of their play space, familiar faces are finding innovative applications for generative techniques – from universe-scale vastness to the intricate details of a single lost culture. In the midst of this rapid growth, we desperately need new and better ways to talk and think about generative design. This week on the Saturday Papers I want to show you one particular paper with an idea that’s really resonated with me lately, but that’s simple enough to use in games of all shapes and sizes, right now. Let’s jump in!

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Introducing Danesh (Part 1!)

Over the last few years I’ve talked to a lot of people about procedural generation. Researchers who are interested in pushing boundaries. Developers who just wish the damn thing would work. Newcomers who wish there were better ways to get started. There are a lot of complicated problems, barriers and frustrations surrounding procedural generation (or generative software in general) and there are no easy solutions to any of them, but hopefully projects like Tracery, Cheap Bots Done Quick, PROCJAM and The PCG Book are helping towards some of them. Today I’d like to tell you about something I hope will also help solve some of these problems – a tool to help people understand, poke, tweak, improve and explore procedural generators, called Danesh.

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The Saturday Papers – Would AI Lie To You?

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As promised, The Saturday Papers are back, in a new format with shorter ‘seasons’ of six articles apiece. More info on the series’ future later – for now let’s get into some new research!

A lot of great storytelling relies on the intricacies and weaknesses of human character – a villain lies to further their own ends, an eyewitness misremembers a crucial detail, a fairytale hero forgets the one thing they were told not to do. Of course, all of these weaknesses are exactly the things software is designed to avoid – computers are reliable, accurate, and always follow orders. It makes for great word processing software, but it doesn’t always make for interesting games – so why don’t we try and model these weird human idiosyncracies and see where it leads?

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