Facebook's first AI bot for 'StarCraft: Brood War' lost to those from hobbyist coders at AIIDE

It’s the difference in strategies employed by a software giant like Facebook vs lone programmers and hobbyists that is most fascinating.

The battle for the mantle of best AI is being fought on many frontiers, and one of those is StarCraft. Released in 1998, this 20-year old game (almost) is still one of the most popular real-time strategy (RTS) games around and boasts of a rabid fan following, especially in South Korea.

Facebooks first AI bot for StarCraft: Brood War lost to those from hobbyist coders at AIIDE

StarCraft: Brood War

But it’s not just gamers who’re fascinated with the game. The popularity of the game means that there’s a vast amount of data available to AI researchers. RTS games are challenging by design. Unlike games like Chess or Go, the rules and tactics are far more flexible and thus, more complex in an RTS. According to a report on Wired, the number of possible positions for a Go game is one followed by 170 zeroes. For StarCraft, you’d need to add another 100 zeroes.

AI defeated humans in Chess decades ago and in April this year, Google’s AlphaGo convincingly defeated the best human player at Go. More recently, Elon Musk’s team developed an AI bot that thrashed the world’s best DOTA 2 (defence of the ancients) players, but only under a pre-determined set of conditions.

With everyone racing to build the better AI, competitions like the AIIDE StarCraft AI Competition have been popping up. The AIIDE StarCraft competition is funded by the, you guessed it, AIIDE, which stands for AI for Interactive Digital Entertainment.

According to the rules, “programs will play StarCraft: Brood War games against each other using BWAPI, a software library that makes it possible to connect programs to the StarCraft: Brood War game engine.”

The competition is organised as 1 vs 1 tournaments with fog of war enabled. Rather than a time limit, a frame limit of 86,400 frames is imposed. There are restrictions on the length of each on frame call. Standard StarCraft: Brood War rules apply and the exploitation of certain bugs and hacks is permitted. Also, all code must be open-source and will be published on the competition website.

The competition is open to all and there is no entry fee.

Social network giant Facebook decided to enter this competition with a bot called CherryPi managed by a team of eight. Wired reports that Facebook has published a few research papers on StarCraft, and notes that it doesn’t have a “notch under its belt”, as far as AI is concerned.

Facebook’s entry didn’t fare as well as we were expecting from a multi-billion dollar giant, but it managed to grab sixth spot at the tournament. CherryPi lost out to bots built by lone programmers.

It’s the difference in strategies employed by a software giant like Facebook as against lone programmers and hobbyists that is most fascinating. While most hobbyists appear to be going for a rule-based approach, with pre-programmed strategies and minimal learning abilities, Facebook’s bot employs machine learning that can help bots develop their own strategies from scratch.

In fact, Wired found that developers are expecting machine-learning based solutions to defeat rule-based bots within 2-5 years. Google has also thrown its proverbial hat into the ring.

Oh, and humans are still far superior to these existing bots. For now.

Right now, the AI wars appear to be about fun and games, but the company that builds the best AI will rule this world eventually.

You can watch CherryPi in action below:

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