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Google’s DeepMind partners with Unity to train AI agents in virtual worlds

Alphabet Inc.’s artificial intelligence group DeepMind Technologies Ltd. said today it will research AI agents with 3-D game development company Unity Technologies Inc., which made the engine for the popular Pokemon Go game.

The two companies plan to create a virtual test ground for AI agents that may eventually be used in fields such as autonomous driving and robotics.

“DeepMind researchers are trying to crack huge AI problems and Unity provides them with a solution of creating complex virtual environments that will enable the development of algorithms capable of learning to solve complex tasks across diverse environments,” Danny Lange, vice president of machine learning and AI at Unity Technologies, said in a statement. “We believe the future of AI is being forged by increasingly sophisticated human-machine interactions, and Unity is proud to be the engine that is enabling these interactions.”

DeepMind, thanks to its backing from Google-parent Alphabet Inc., has established itself as one of the leading organizations working in AI field, having published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers on the subject in journals such as Nature and Science. The company’s list of notable achievements includes developing an AI that can diagnose eye diseases with 94 percent accuracy and building an agent that can navigate city roads without the need for a map.

Unity is best known for gaming, but the company also has a reputation for building virtual environments that serve as testbeds for developing intelligent agents, which are entities that can make sense of their surroundings with sensors and then act on this to achieve specific goals. The best example is its ML-Agents toolkit, released last year, which enables developers to create their own AI agent training grounds.

The companies said one of the biggest challenges of creating autonomous agents that can function reliably in real-life situations is accounting for the diverse conditions they might encounter. Researchers believe the best way is to simulate those real-world environments first of all to ensure the AI agent has been perfected. Only then are they deployed in physical hardware.

That explains why DeepMind is partnering with Unity, which is often said to be the leader in 3-D gaming and therefore uniquely able to create the kinds of simulated environments needed for AI training.

“Games and simulations have been a core part of DeepMind’s research program from the very beginning and this approach has already led to significant breakthroughs in AI research,” Demis Hassabis, co-founder and chief executive officer at DeepMind, said in a statement.

Image: Sujins/Pixabay

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