Update: Google, the event sponsor, has not officially announced a cash prize for the winner.
The annual Google AI Challenge has been announced: contestants will be competing to see who can build the program that can win the most games of Tron. Named after the famous light cycle scene in the 1982 scifi movie of the same name, Tron (aka Snakes) has two players control avatars that zip around a screen leaving a glowing trail. Run into your trail or your opponent’s trail, or into a wall, and you die. It’s a simple game with a huge range of possible strategies – a perfect fit for an AI challenge. While sponsored by Google (who’s offering a ‘cash prize’ to the winner), the contest is run by the CS Club at the University of Waterloo. You can go to the competition website to download a starter package of software, a strategy guide, or to check out who’s winning on the leaderboard. The competition will end at noon on February 26th, so if you want to enter you better get started now. The Google AI Challenge is a fun idea and another example of how the search engine company is developing the culture and expertise of computer science.
When most of us think of the promise of artificial intelligence, we probably don’t think about video games. After all, these aren’t general AIs that can think and act like humans, they’re narrow AI, adapting to a very specialized scenario. Yet it’s narrow AI that has the most near term applications, and it’s narrow AI that is already surrounding us in our everyday lives. Autopilot on planes, search engine spiders, telecomm routers, these all depend on the task oriented learning machine. Those programs are a lot more sophisticated than the ones we’re likely to see in the Google AI challenge, but they’re all part of the same ecosystem. Hopefully competitions like this one will encourage youths to enjoy and pursue computer science and artificial intelligence. As with amateur robot wrestling matches, this competition may seem a little silly, but it’s laying the foundation for a generation of developers yet to come. I can’t wait to see who wins.
*full disclosure: Keith Kleiner (owner of Singularity Hub) is a former employee of Google.
[image credits: Disney via Wiki Commons, Google/University of Waterloo]