DeepMind AI is secretly lurking on the public StarCraft II 1v1 ladder

Enlarge (credit: Blizzard)

Google’s DeepMind is making its state-of-the-art AI play StarCraft II again. We previously saw the AI, called “AlphaStar,” take on pro StarCraft II players in show matches, but now AlphaStar is ready to take on the public and faceroll scrubs on the 1v1 European multiplayer ladder.

Just like last time, AlphaStar is being built with the cooperation of Blizzard (StarCraft II‘s developer), and the official SC2 website has the details of AlphaStar’s new incarnation. The in-game UI now has a “DeepMind opt-in button” on the 1v1 Versus menu, which will mix instances of AlphaStar into the human pool of multiplayer players. AlphaStar will be playing the 1v1 ladder anonymously, so you won’t know if you’re playing AlphaStar or a human (I mean, I guess you could try asking your opponent). Blizzard says that “having AlphaStar play anonymously helps ensure that it is a controlled test, so that the experimental versions of the agent experience gameplay as close to a normal 1v1 ladder match as possible.” Players will be paired against AlphaStar according to the normal matchmaking rules, and a win or loss will count just as it would against a human.

The post contains a number of implementation details for this new version of AlphaStar, which sounds like a huge improvement over the version that played StarCraft II pros back in January. First, a number of improvements were made to bring the AI’s speed capabilities more in line with a human player. As an AI company, DeepMind’s stated goal with this experiment is to play SC2 on a level playing field and teach an AI things like thinking and long-term planning—basically, strategy. At a very high level, you could say the two big components to any StarCraft victory are “speed” and “strategy.” DeepMind’s previous AI experiments were in turn-based games like Chess and Go, where the speed at which you can move the pieces doesn’t really matter. As a real-time game, speed is a big factor in any SC2 victory, and in previous games, AlphaStar at times demonstrated superhuman speed that gave it an unfair advantage and muddied the experiment results.

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