Robots Can Outwit Us on the Virtual Battlefield, So Let's Not Put Them in Charge of the Real Thing

Pe3k/Shutterstock.com

A bot called AlphaStar plays the popular real-time strategy game StarCraft II at Grandmaster level

Artificial intelligence developer DeepMind has just announced its latest milestone: a bot called AlphaStar that plays the popular real-time strategy game StarCraft II at Grandmaster level.

This isn’t the first time a bot has outplayed humans in a strategy war game. In 1981, a program called Eurisko, developed by artificial intelligence (AI) pioneer Doug Lenat, won the US championship of Traveller, a highly complex strategy war game in which players design a fleet of 100 ships. Eurisko was consequently made an honorary Admiral in the Traveller navy.

The following year, the tournament rules were overhauled in an attempt to thwart computers. But Eurisko triumphed for a second successive year. With officials threatening to abolish the tournament if a computer won again, Lenat retired his program.

DeepMind’s PR department would have you believe that StarCraft “has emerged by consensus as the next grand challenge (in computer games)” and “has been a grand challenge for AI researchers for over 15 years”.

In the most recent StarCraft computer game tournament, only four entries came from academic or industrial research labs. The nine other bots involved were written by lone individuals outside the mainstream of AI research.

In fact, the 42 authors of DeepMind’s paper, published today in Nature, greatly outnumber the rest of the world building bots for StarCraft. Without wishing to take anything away from an impressive feat of collaborative engineering, if you throw enough resources at a problem, success is all but assured.

Unlike recent successes with computer chess and Go, AlphaStar didn’t learn to outwit humans simply by playing against itself. Rather, it learned by imitating the best bits from nearly a million games played by top-ranked human players.

Without this input, AlphaStar was beaten convincingly by 19 out of 20 human players on the StarCraft game server. AlphaStar also played anonymously on that server so that humans couldn’t exploit any weaknesses that might have been uncovered in earlier games.

AlphaStar did beat Grzegorz “MaNa” Komincz, one of the world’s top professional StarCraft players, in December last year. But this was a version of AlphaStar with much faster reflexes than any human, and unlimited vision of the playing board (unlike human players who can only see a portion of it at any one time). This was hardly a level playing field.

Nevertheless, StarCraft does have some features that makes AlphaStar an impressive advance, if not truly a breakthrough. Unlike chess or Go, players in StarCraft have imperfect information about the state of play, and the set of possible actions you can make at any point is much larger. And StarCraft unfolds in real time and requires long-term planning.

Robot Wars

This raises the question of whether, in the future, we will see robots not just fighting wars but planning them too. Actually, we already have both.

Despite the many warnings raised by AI researchers such as myself – as well as by founders of AI and robotics companies, Nobel Peace Laureates, and church leaders – fully autonomous weapons, also known as “killer robots”, have been developed and will soon be used.

In 2020, Turkey will deploy kamikaze drones on its border with Syria. These drones will use computer vision to identify, track and kill people without human intervention.

This is a terrible development. Computers do not have the moral capability to decide who lives or dies. They have neither empathy nor compassion. “Killer robots” will change the very nature of conflict for the worse.

As for “robot generals”, computers have been helping generals plan war for decades.

In Desert Storm, during the Gulf War of the early 1990s, AI scheduling tools were used to plan the buildup of forces in the Middle East prior to conflict. A US general told me shortly afterwards that the amount of money saved by doing this was equivalent to everything that had been spent on AI research until then.

Computers have also been used extensively by generals to war-game potential strategies. But just as we wouldn’t entrust all battlefield decisions to a single soldier, handing over the full responsibilities of a general to a computer would be a step too far.

Machines cannot be held accountable for their decisions. Only humans can be. This is a cornerstone of international humanitarian law.

Nevertheless, to cut through the fog of war and deal with the vast amount of information flowing back from the front, generals will increasingly rely on computer support in their decision-making.

If this results in fewer civilian deaths, less friendly fire, and more respect for international humanitarian law, we should welcome such computer assistance. But the buck needs to stop with humans, not machines.

Here’s a final question to ponder. If tech companies like Google really don’t want us to worry about computers taking over, why are they building bots to win virtual wars rather than concentrating on, say, more peaceful e-sports? With all due respect to sports fans, the stakes would be much lower.

The Conversation

Toby Walsh is a  professor of AI at UNSW, Research Group Leader, Data61.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.