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Internet heroes: 

The artificial intelligence that writes its own games


To That Sect – A game created from the ‘mind’ of a computer

Anyone who downloaded the Android game A Puzzling Present this Christmas might have been a bit puzzled themselves – it’s a festive-themed platform game, but just downright weird throughout.

 ANGELINA harvests her own ‘ideas’ from the internet 
That’s unsurprising when you meet (or fail to meet) its creator – it’s one of the first games to be created by an artificial intelligence, not a human being. 

ANGELINA, created by London researcher Michael Cook, harvests her own ‘ideas’ from the internet – and her latest game, To That Sect, is downright bizarre, with a 3D purple maze filled with strange statues, posed at eerie angles.

The whole thing feels slightly alarming, Cook admits: “To That Sect is creepy – and it feels unhuman. I think a lot of the creepiness of artificial intelligence comes from things it gets wrong for very unhuman reasons. A human would notice that the spinning objects in the maze are unnatural – to a computer, it’s not a detail it notices. That’s why it unsettles us.”

The basic framework of the game is written by Cook, but then ANGELINA ad-libs the sound and the look ‘herself’. The game won praise in the online game competition Ludum Dare. 

“The sound, the music, the world – that’s the stuff that really makes an impact,” Cook says, “Sound effects and artwork – ANGELINA goes online to find things and has a lot more freedom. This makes the results rather unpredictable.”

Cook thinks that ANGELINA is drawing close to a point where, “It’ll be hard to say it’s not being creative. We’re on the cusp of things. Up until now we’ve really been finding our feet. But we’re beginning to build software that is unpredictable, inventive, appreciative, self-improving. ANGELINA can generate simple bits of program code now. When it starts to get better at this, that’s something we could call creativity.”

There are a huge number of other researchers looking into this idea – including Cook’s supervisor, Simon Colton, who programmed machine-made poetry. “Another researcher, Dan Ventura has built systems that write music to go with lyrics or, and this is my favourite, generates recipes for soup.”

Cook believes that his creation – or programs like it – may eventually find ‘jobs’ in gaming – but doesn’t believe that ‘she’ threatens jobs currently held by humans.

“I think in most cases we’ll only hand over control if it lets us focus on something we’re more passionate about. Generating levels in a game like Diablo lets you spend more time on making the rules exciting or drawing more art. I think that trend will continue – videogames are made by creative people, and those people won’t want to give something to a computer to do unless they think it makes them more creative.

“That’s the great thing about software like this – it can help people be even more creative, rather than taking creativity away from them.”

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