Microsoft, owner of the evergreen popular video game, Minecraft, have announced the news that pro computer scientists and casual amateurs will now be able to help evaluate and develop Artificial Intelligence software by simply playing the game.

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The aim of the AI project, known as AIX, will be to see whether machines can learn to play Minecraft freely, as opposed to being stuck to a list of event led specific tasks and choosing an appropriate response.

The AIX AI program, will not require any extra hardware from users such as the codes for Nuclear warheads, but instead. will be taught to play Minecraft as an add-on for the game, allowing interested home users and academics to evaluate the AI engine it is working on.

AIX won’t cost players any extra either and will be released as an open source modification but users will be cordoned off and sandboxed from other Minecraft players.

This is, no doubt, to ensure that should the AIX software one day become self-aware, it won’t be able to gain access to the nuclear launch codes, rename itself Skynet, and launch a sequence of increasingly poor sequels that suck the soul out of what was once a really good film.

In order to take part in the AIX AI experiment, players will have to install AIX on top of their preexisting game installation. This will then allow the AIX artificial intelligence code to control a character that will consequently ‘learn’ through in game feedback and game world consequences.

A senior researcher, Fernando Diaz, said:

“We’re trying to program it to learn, as opposed to accomplishing specific tasks.”

Rather than writing the code that gives the AI character the knowledge of how to climb a mountain, researchers are instead more interested in seeing whether the AIX AI can learn how to do it for themselves, without pre-written instructions.

Katja Hofmann, the AIX project leader at the Microsoft’s lab in the UK explained that:

“People build amazing structures that do amazing things in Minecraft, and this allows experimenters to put in tasks that will stretch AI technology beyond its current capacity.”

By utilizing this ‘group’ think’ rollout of AIX to the masses, Hofmann hopes that it will speed up the research of computers gaining human-like intelligence. AIX is already up and running in a private beta test, but is expected to be available to anyone who wants it by the summer.

The news comes at what many commentators see as a crucial moment in time for AI.  AlphaGo, Google’s AI machine managed to claim victory in a series of high profile games against the reigning GO world champion.